Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Verne Lewellen (1924 - 2017)

Communities across the Nebraska panhandle have lost a good friend.

Verne Lewellen, a retired teacher, coach and school administrator, died last Friday (4/21/17) at his home in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.  He was 92 years old.

For many thousands of students who benefitted from his soft-spoken style and inspirational leadership, his passing brought back many memories – and the realization of just how lucky we were to have crossed paths with this gentle man.

A respected leader in the many panhandle communities where he and his wife, Erma, have lived, he was a Nebraska native and a life-long supporter of Chadron State College.

Many public tributes to "Coach Lewellen" have taken place in recent years, and deservedly so.  Each of us who knew him and respected him will likely carry warm memories of him for the rest of our lives – and try to emulate the many attributes of this special person.  

Rest in peace, Coach Lew.

To Erma, Curt, Tammi, and the rest of the Lewellen family, our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Chasing Dawes County history...some 78 years ago!

Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln) - Thursday, August 10, 1939 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Lakota elder Leonard Little Finger (1939-2017)

by Larry Miller

Our friend Leonard Little Finger, who was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation died last weekend (4/8/17) at his home in Oglala, South Dakota, surrounded by family.  He was 77. 

A respected elder within the Lakota community and one-time administrator of the Indian Health Service facility at Pine Ridge, Leonard had strong ties to Dawes County.   He attended Chadron High School in the 1950s, graduating in 1958.  He had fond memories of his years at CHS and – with some of his family – attended a class reunion in 2009.  He appears in several reunion photos in this CHS Reunion Gallery

Unbeknownst to most of his high school friends, many of Leonard's ancestors were victims in one of the most horrific incidents in American history – the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890, which claimed the lives of some 300 Lakota men, women and children.  A great-great-grandson of the famous Lakota leader Big Foot, Leonard had 39 relatives caught up in the massacre.  Only seven survived.  His story was among many recounted about Wounded Knee in the November-December 2015 edition of South Dakota magazine. In 1990, on the 100th anniversary of the Wounded Knee massacre, Leonard met at the White House with President George H.W. Bush to present a photo of Big Foot.  One hundred years earlier, in 1890, the revered Lakota leader had planned to visit President Grant in Washington.   Because of Wounded Knee, it was a meeting that would never take place.

Leonard and I crossed paths a few times in recent years, and during one visit he shared his continuing quest to help to preserve Lakota culture and language.  I posted a story about Leonard's Dream in 2008.  For decades, he worked tirelessly to reclaim Lakota artifacts that had been spirited away by others.  In 2000, he was able to recover Big Foot's hair lock that was held be a collector in Massachusetts. It was one of his many accomplishments in cultural preservation.

One night wake service for Leonard Little Finger was conducted on April 14, 2017 at the Brother Rene Hall in Oglala, SD.  Funeral services were held Saturday, April 15, 2017.  Burial was at Our Lady of the Sioux Catholic Cemetery near Oglala. 

Note: (4/17/17): Like so many who knew Leonard from his high school years, I remember him as a thoughtful and caring person.  As our paths crossed in later years – the 1980s – he was serving as Administrator of the Indian Health Facility at Pine Ridge.  He was enmeshed in a campaign to battle alcoholism on the reservation. Leonard seemed always committed to improving the lives of his Lakota brethren.  His life story and achievements reach far beyond his obituary and this posting. Another friend of Leonard's – Con Marshall – has written a story containing some wonderful recollections of our friend Leonard Little Finger as shared by some of his classmates at Chadron High School.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

A Diverse Life: Jim Butler celebrates 98 years

by Larry Miller

1917 was a pretty tough year in the Great Plains.  It was actually pretty tough everywhere. 

War was raging in Europe, and the United States was drawing ever closer to becoming ensnarled in it. 

Too, a Spanish Flu epidemic was in its infancy and would claim more than 20 million lives worldwide by 1920 – some 500,000 of them in the United States. 

Being a dirt farmer in Dawes County Nebraska probably didn’t seem so bad for Thomas Jefferson Butler and his wife, Grace Brown Butler.  Working the land on his dad’s place about eight miles southeast of Chadron likely offered the prospect of providing a good life.    

“T.J.,” as he became known, was a native Nebraskan, born of parents who’d come from Missouri and Indiana.  He had married Grace Brown, whose ancestors came from Wisconsin and Iowa, and they would raise their family in the vicinity of Bordeaux Creek.

Jim Butler remembers his father:

Their first child, Melvin, was born in May 1917.   Three weeks later General “Blackjack” Pershing was leading U.S. forces in Europe as they joined the British, French and Russian forces in an effort to counter Germany and the Axis Powers.

The American entry into the was was critical – and timely.  Within eighteen months – and after the loss of some 17 million lives – World War One ended with the signing of an Armistice on November 11, 1918.

And Grace Butler, pregnant with her second child James LeRoy, had reason for some optimism about the future.  The war was over, and a new child was about to begin life  at their place along Bordeaux Creek.

Born on Bordeaux Creek and early education:

Jim Butler had never seen a football or basketball game when he headed for high school in Chadron.  No matter, there seemed to be no time for such activities anyway.  Every day, Jim and his older brother had to return home promptly after school to do their farm chores.  There was no time for sports.  They were, after all, country kids.    

The following year, a new coach arrived at the Normal School – and Chadron Prep.  While there was no football played at Prep in those years, the fortunes of their basketball team began to change.  And so did the circumstances of the Butler boys.  

Prep’s basketball team had been beaten by about everyone, including Whitney,” Butler recalled.  When Ross Armstrong arrived on campus in 1933, teams began to see some real improvement.

Both my brother Melvin and I were able to go out for basketball, and we made the squad.  We got beat in the district finals, keeping us out of the state tournament.  But when I was a Junior and Senior, Ross took us to state both years, but got beat in overtime.  We would have won the first year, but Joe O’Rourke and and another of our big scorers were sick and couldn’t play.”

I graduated from Prep in 1936.  In past summers, I had worked a bit for Rufus Trapp, the football coach at the Normal.  He had a place out on Big Bordeaux, and he’d have me fix fence, shock grain, or whatever needed to be done.   When I started college, he talked me in to playing football for him.”

Jim Butler was a standout athlete at Chadron Prep and Chadron State, despite the fact that he’d never seen a football or basketball game before he started high school at Prep.  After his college years he also played baseball with the Chadron Elks in their heyday.

I had never played football before college, so the first year was one of learning the game.  I played enough at guard my second year to earn my letter.  We also won the Nebraska college championship.”

Armstrong took over as football coach the next two years, and Jim Butler became a starting guard for the Eagles, winning Honorable Mention in the Nebraska college conference.  And his prowess at linebacker was considered key in the 12-9 football win over Wyoming in 1940.   He was also a standout basketball player for the college – a member of the powerhouse team of 1940 that shared the conference crown with Peru and included other well-known athletes like Bill Bruer, Dale Tangeman, and Bob Baumann.

But sports wasn’t the only thing capturing his attention.

In college, he met and started dating a Chadron girl, Madeline Iaeger. 

Undated photo - Madeline Iaeger Butler
She went to Chadron High and I went to Prep.  I didn’t know her until we were in college.   Her grandfather was Louis Iaeger, a local pioneer who was pretty well known as ‘Billy the Bear.’” 

Louis J.F. Iaeger was a native Pennsylvanian whose 19th century adventures included earning a navigator’s certificate at a young age, shipping out as a quartermaster aboard vessels sailing from San Francisco to the Orient, and a stint with the Buffalo Bill Company, playing the part of a bear – thus the nickname “Billy the Bear.”  His, too, is an interesting story, which you’ll find within this biographical sketch of Louis Iaeger.

Madeline Iaeger and Jim Butler were married in 1940, and in 1941 their first child – Gary – was born.

Europe again was in turmoil, with Germany on the march across Europe, Asia and Africa.  The United States had avoided direct involvement in the war, but with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in early 1941, American industry shifted to a war-time footing that would vastly increase the production of aircraft, ships, and other war materials for the Allies.

Jim Butler’s older brother, Melvin, joined the Navy and became a pilot.  He had gone through the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program at Chadron State and Snook Air Service at the Chadron airport.  He completed his military training at Pensacola, Florida and San Diego before joining the Pacific Fleet as pilot of a patrol bomber.  Ensign Butler was stationed about a year at Honolulu and survived the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Jim Butler and Madeline had already moved from Chadron to California. 

Her parents moved there earlier, and “I needed a job, and so we moved there, too, and I went to work for the Vega Aircraft Company,” Butler recalled.   The Vega plant in Burbank was a major production facility for Allied patrol bombers.

In a short time, I was foreman of a 10-man crew building those bombers.  Although I wanted to join the service, they wouldn’t relieve me from my job.  Apparently, we were doing what others couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

In September 1942 came the bad news that Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Melvin Butler was reported lost at sea during flight operations in the Pacific.  News of the incident was delayed for several weeks; a story about the incident appeared in the November 27, 1942 edition of the Lincoln Evening Journal, after the Butler family had been notified.  Word then came that his aircraft had been shot down near the Solomon Islands in the western Pacific.  Lieutenant Butler was never found.  He was 25 years old.

Perhaps that’s when Jim Butler conjured his own plans for joining the service.  But getting released from a critical wartime job in an aircraft factory was no easy matter.  He continued to work at Vega Aircraft.  Then in September 1943, Jim and Madeline Butler’s second son, Dale, was born.

Finally wangling a release from the aircraft company, the young Butler family pulled up stakes and journeyed back to Nebraska in the dead of winter. 

We ran in to a really big snowstorm between Rock Springs and Rawlins.  We had no heater in the car, and I was really glad to see the lights of Rawlins!”

After returning his family to Chadron, Butler went to Denver to enlist in the Army Air Corps.

Undated photo of Jim Butler and his dad 
I passed the test for pilot and bombardier.  Like his brother, Jim Butler had already gone through the CPT program when he was a student at Chadron State and worked at the Chadron airport for long-time aviator Frank Snook.

That’s how I got my pilot’s license,” Butler recalled.

His official enlistment took place at Fort Logan , Colorado in late January 1944.

When I went in to the service and started training, Madeline and Dale went back to California to be with her folks.  Gary stayed with my folks in Nebraska.”

In California, Madeline landed a good job, but one that was very demanding.

She was a smart gal.  Her major was chemistry.

I was away in Texas taking pilot training…and I got a letter from her mother that Madeline was in the hospital with pneumonia.  And even before I could respond, I got a telegram that she had died.  It was a tough deal.

That was in January 1945, and the war was winding down.  The fighting in Europe officially ended with “VE (Victory in Europe) Day on May 8.

As soon as the Air Corps found out that I had two kids, and that my wife had died – and of course I had lost my brother, too – they started talking about discharge.  I was released from active duty in May 1945.”

Butler returned to Chadron.  But the end of the war meant an abundance of returning G.I.’s, and not a lot of jobs to be had.  And he had little appetite at that time to return to college.

He was thinking more and more that he’d simply go back to California where there were more jobs.

Donna Sailor Butler
But my dad wanted me to work in the trucking business with him, and so I did.  Factories had been building military equipment during the war, so there just weren’t many trucks for farmers to get their crops to market.  We could haul wheat all winter long…we made good money.  Golly, I could make $100 or $125 a day.  That was big money in those days!”

While attending a dance at the Kelso Pavilion east of Chadron, his friend Pat Muldoon introduced Jim to Donna Sailor.  They began dating and she helped persuade him that he should go back and finish college.

And he did just that, quickly completing the work necessary to take his Bachelor of Science degree in Education (Industrial Arts) from Chadron State in 1946.  He also took a new bride that year, when he and Donna were married.  

A former teammate of mine, Dale Tangeman, was Superintendent of the school at Igloo, South Dakota.   There was a big Army Ordnance depot there, and Dale needed a football coach and someone to teach shop.  It was a big place, and there were really some great kids there.

After a year at Igloo, the Butlers were back in Chadron, and they had a new son, Scott. 

Through an unusual set of circumstances, Jim Butler found himself in a quick career change.  From a shop teacher and coach to………Dawes County Sheriff?

Jim Butler – Lawman:

That’s exactly what happened as Jim and Donna Butler and their growing family of boys took up residence on the top floor of the County Courthouse during the blizzard of 1949.

The county commissioners appointed him to complete the unexpired term of Sheriff Cy Spearman.    The Butler’s apartment in the courthouse had two tiny bedrooms, and a very small living room and kitchen. 

As their family grew with the births of twin boys, Criss and Curt, the living accommodations became too crowded – even with oldest son Gary living with his Butler grandparents.

Butler acknowledges that he enjoyed most aspects of serving as Sheriff.  And the citizens of Dawes County were pleased with him.  He was elected to two subsequent terms in office.
The Butler’s were looking for a change.  And – after 10 years in the courthouse – it came.

Lawman Butler traded his badge for a classroom at East Ward Elementary School, first as a teacher – then as Principal.

I then got my Master’s degree at Chadron State and also attended summer school one year at the University of Iowa.  I also went to Western State in Colorado and earned a Specialist in Education certificate.  I thought we might go to Colorado.”

But as it turned out, their destiny remained in Chadron, where Jim Butler would remain for 26 years in the public school system.

I was offered a contract to go to Sheridan, Wyoming, but Chadron superintendent Heine Schroeder asked me how much they were offering me.   He said he’d match it.  So we stayed.  Donna and the kids were real happy about that.”

Jim Butler seems to have enjoyed just about everything he’s pursued.

He quickly admits that his greatest joy, however, was his years within the Chadron Public Schools. 

Jim Butler:  "I always looked forward to going to work."

But both Jim and Donna Butler pursued other interests as well.

She was a remarkable musician and is well remembered as a highly-popular piano teacher for many years. 

I absolutely loved to hear Donna play the piano.  She played by ear, and she also taught herself to play the organ.  Our favorite songs were ‘Stardust’ and ‘Deep Purple.’”

And Jim Butler sings Donna’s praises – not just as a highly-talented musician – but as a loving mother.

He recalled one of his more challenging moments as a young parent, when his son, Dale, was born in California in 1943….and how his second wife Donna later would help them overcome adversity.

Over the years, Donna and I enjoyed antiques.  It was our hobby.  When I retired, I repaired and refinished old furniture.” 

When the Butlers moved to Lincoln in 1992, he remodeled their home so he’d have room for a workshop in the garage.

Donna passed away in 2008.  They had been married for 62 years.

Jim Butler’s boys have done well.  Gary and his wife live in Savannah, Missouri.  Dale and his wife Carol live in Kansas City, Missouri; Scott and his wife recently moved to North Carolina.  Criss and his family live in Omaha, while Curt and family – Lincoln residents – frequently see the elder Butler and share meals.

Jim Butler has continued to eagerly follow University of Nebraska sports – everything from football to volleyball.

Until the last few years, Jim Butler would make regular auto trips by himself from Lincoln to Chadron for Chadron Prep and Chadron State reunions.  2010 marked a special return to his hometown, as Butler was inducted into the Chadron State College Athletic Hall of Fame.  All five Butler boys were able to join him for the occasion.
To be sure, Jim Butler has achieved success in many ways.  His accomplishments range from youthful exploits as a talented athlete, to a colorful – if abbreviated – career as a county sheriff.

But likely his proudest achievements have been those relating to the development and nurturing of young people – his own five boys – and the numerous youngsters he has taught and mentored along the way during his career as an educator.

As Jim Butler celebrates 98 years on this earth, he can – and should – take great comfort in the thousands of lives he has touched in so many positive ways.

Happy Birthday, Jim!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Ted Turpin – longtime newspaperman – dies at 84

By Con Marshall 
A former Chadron resident, T.C. (Ted) Turpin, who began what evolved into an exceptional career in the newspaper and publishing fields, among others, while attending Chadron State College in the early 1950s, died on Dec. 5 in Tucson, Ariz., where he had lived since the mid-1960s.               

Ted Turpin in 2011
Turpin, 84, was often in the spotlight as a youth in Chadron.  He was a 130-pound starting guard on the Chadron Prep football team, a distance runner and a Golden Gloves boxer and was often involved in fine arts activities.  He graduated from Prep in 1950 and from Chadron State in 1954.
While in college, Turpin was the editor of “The Eagle” newspaper three semesters, set the school record in the two-mile run, was a football and basketball cheerleader, sang in the choir and select vocal groups, received the Sigma Delta Nu key for scholarship, belonged to Blue Key National Honor Fraternity and was the Ivy Day orator.
Also during this era, Turpin was a sportswriter for the Chadron Record and was a sportscaster for KCSR Radio briefly after it went on the air in May 1954.
After teaching and coaching for one year each at Brule and Big Springs High Schools in the Ogallala area, Turpin switched to journalism and was a news reporter and later the editor of the North Platte Telegraph. While serving in the latter position, he was elected president of the Nebraska Associated Press Managing Editors Association and was chosen North Platte’s “Outstanding Young Man.”  In addition, he was co-founder and first president of the Lincoln County Historical Society.
In 1961, Turpin went to Washington, D.C., and was an administrative assistant to newly-elected U.S. Rep. Dave Martin for a year.  The next three years, he lived in Chicago and Cleveland while working as the Midwest agricultural reporter for the Wall Street Journal.
Turpin in his newspapering years
He moved to Arizona in 1964 and was a political writer and later the business and financial editor for the Tucson Daily Citizen. He resigned in 1967 to launch two business ventures.  One was a weekly newspaper, the Green Valley News, and the other “Homes Illustrated,” that grew into a real estate magazine that was published in at least five states. According to his obituary printed in a Tucson newspaper, these ventures “were his bread and butter the past 40 years.”

When Turpin returned to Chadron State in 1983 to speak at commencement and receive the college’s Distinguished Service Award, he was serving his sixth term as the Arizona chairman for the National Newspaper Association and was in his seventh year as a board member for an agency that worked with citizens in poor rural communities to help them improve their lives.
One of Turpin’s acquaintances when both were growing up in Chadron remained in touch with Turpin through the years is Mike Smith, once the sports editor and Sunday supplement editor of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and now of Isanti, Minn.
Everything Ted ever did turned out great,” Smith said.  “He always worked hard and knew how to make things click. He was one of the most interesting persons I have ever known.”
While Turpin was attending Chadron State, he met and married Kathleen Gunn of Lusk.  Although they divorced in the 1990s and both remarried, they remained friends.  He is survived by two children and three grandchildren.  

Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story with Dawes County Journal.  The 2011 photo of Ted Turpin is courtesy of Mike Smith, taken during a Chadron Area Reunion in Phoenix, Arizona.  Here is a link to Ted Turpin's obituary. Ted's mother, Bernice Turpin, according to the 1954 Chadron City Directory, was a rural school teacher.  Ted had a brother, Mike, who was about five or six years younger.  Neither was mentioned in his obituary, and both may have pre-deceased him. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

World War II bolstered Chadron Airport & College

By Con Marshall
The Chadron Airport, long an invaluable asset to the community, wasn’t something that magically appeared. Through the years, it has grown a lot like Topsy:  One step at a time, certainly without a master plan or a big-time government grant, at least initially.

The threat of war, then World War II, were major inspirations.  The desire of numerous adventurous men and several women who wanted to learn to be pilots was another mainspring in its early development.  The fact that Chadron had a college with dormitory space and food services also was a plus in the whole scenario.

There apparently were two primary instigators in getting the airport “off the ground.”  One was Arden Hixson, a native of Crookston and a Chadron State College student who later became the “poster child” for the program that was the inspiration for the airport. The other was Frank Snook, one of the area’s first pilots who was using his small plane primarily to hunt coyotes while flying out of an “airport” he had developed at Crawford.
Early Dawes County pilot Frank Snook
Maybe Snook was unintentionally involved in the airport project first.  In a story printed in the Chadron Record in September 1990, he told Goldie Dawkins that in 1938 “a government official” hunted him down in Crawford and asked him to move to Lawrence, Kansas, to become an instructor for a pilot training program that the University of Kansas was planning.  The official explained that if the United States became involved in the war that seemed imminent many pilots would be needed.
I told him I didn’t want to move and suggested that Chadron had a college,” Snook is quoted as saying in the story.  “He reminded me that Chadron didn’t have an airport, but I told him I knew the mayor and some of the council members, and perhaps something could be done about that.”
At the time, planes flying into Chadron landed at what was later known as “the Ormesher airport” east of the Dawes County Fairgrounds.  Maybe it could be expanded, but the owner of the land wanted $6 an acre for it and that was deemed to be too much, Snook told Dawkins.
Before long, Snook said the city rented or bought a quarter section west of Chadron where the airport developed.  The land met one requirement.  It was flat. But it was covered with cactuses and getting it shaped up took some doing.
Hixson entered the picture about the same time.  According to a letter he wrote for his 50-year reunion of the Class of 1940 at Chadron State, in the summer of 1939 he learned about a government plan to teach college students to fly. Hixson said he “had always” wanted to become a pilot and approached Robert Elliott, president of the college, and E.L. Rouse, director of instruction, about the possibilities of CSC becoming involved.
According to Hixson’s letter, published in Chadron’s Golden Age Courier in December 1970 along with a story written by Belle Lecher, the college officials initially weren’t very encouraging, but said they would consider it.  They noted Chadron didn’t have an airport and they didn’t know anything about aviation.  
Arden Hixson - Chadron Normal 1940
Hixson’s letter says he mentioned to Elliott and Rouse that Snook was hunting coyotes with his plane at Crawford and the college had capable faculty members who could be trained to help with the program. 
Lecher’s story states Heman Carmean, the Chadron mayor in 1939, was supportive of the airport notion and when Hixson went to the city council it agreed to help.
Things moved fast.  By October 1939, Chadron State was on the list of 55 colleges in the nation that had been approved by the Civilian Aeronautics Authority for participation in a civilian pilot training program. The initial quota of students to take the training was 10, one of which could be a woman.  That would be Hope Brooker Anderson.  Hixson was one of the men.
The stories by both Dawkins and Lecher discuss the problem of removing the cactuses so a runway could be developed. The would-be aviators initially used hoes, rakes, shovels, etc., to cut them off or dig them up.  Before long, a county commissioner, probably Ward Diehl, came to their rescue and saw to it that a county road grader was made available.
Snook initially taught both the “ground school” and flight instruction, but before long Chadron State physics professor E.T. (Tripp) Michael went to Minnesota for special training offered by the Navy and he took over the ground school training.  Other CSC faculty members such as Lyle Andrews, who taught weather, and Ross Armstrong, who taught physical fitness and code, became involved.
About the time Hixson was graduating from Chadron State in May 1940, he was a winner of ground school competition sponsored by Shell Oil Co., involving 10,000 flight school students. He became Nebraska’s representative for seven-state competition in St. Louis. 
The contest involved flight maneuvers needed to complete the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) course and earn a private pilot license. Hixson also won that and went on to Washington, D.C., for more competition against the winners from the remaining six regions.
Hixson, in his letter in the Golden Age Courier, said he received a solid gold wrist watch as the regional winner and was a guest of honor at a banquet attended by more than 200 aviation notables. By the end of 1940, Hixson also had both instructor and commercial licenses and was being paid $5 a hour to teach flight in Wichita. He eventually was the flight commander at Homestead Flight Center in Florida, a pilot for Delta Airlines, an inspector for the CAA and spent the remainder of his career monitoring and evaluating flight programs, including those in a half dozen South American countries.
Altogether he had 31 years of federal service relating to flight.

The 1941 Chadron State yearbook said since the inception of the Civilian Pilot Training program 70 students had received private pilot certification, 20 of whom had continued their training with the Army, Navy, U.S. Aviation Meteorology or airline training schools.  It also reported that the Chadron Municipal Airport had expanded rapidly to include 450 acres, an intermediate airline field that was government lighted and marked, hangar and shop space and a “modern fireproof Administration Building.” 
The bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, turned Chadron’s Civilian Pilot Training Program into something much larger.  It soon became a part of the military effort with officers coming to help fine tune the operation.
A photo in the Omaha World-Herald in June 1942 shows about 90 men standing on the front steps of Crites Hall. The caption says, “Commanded by Lt. Commander William E. Johnson, former lieutenant governor of Nebraska, a full quota of cadets are now training at the aviation station at Chadron State Teachers’ College.”  All 90 were then identified.  
Snook remained in charge of the flight program.  He told Dawkins the government purchased private planes for the training.  He checked them out and accepted 34, but rejected others. He also had 40 employees. Among them was Donald Putnam, a native of the Edgemont area and later an Oelrichs rancher.  He was the program’s chief pilot in charge of the training.
Long-time Chadron resident Gus Yeradi was among the mechanics.
Before long, cadets from all over the U.S. were arriving for three months of what was called pre-flight training. They arrived, usually 30 at a time, via the Chicago and North Western Railroad, were greeted by townspeople and marched up Main Street to the college, where they ate, slept and took the ground school training. After their stay in Chadron, they went on for what was sometimes called “combat training.”
Armstrong related years later that, because the fledgling pilots needed as much daylight as possible for their training in the air, he rousted them out of bed at 4 a.m.  for physical fitness and taught them code in the evenings.
The program is often credited with keeping the college open.  The enrollment in the fall of 1943 was just 95.  By then, nearly all the able-bodied men in the nation were wearing a military uniform.
Thankfully, there were never any major accidents or injuries during the nearly four years that the Chadron program existed.  It ended in 1944 when the Navy built larger facilities to train pilots at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma and the programs on numerous college campuses were shut down.
At least four men who received their preflight training through the Chadron program lost their lives while serving as pilots during World War II.  They were Melvin Butler, Lee Coleman, Earl Finkey and Francis Wertz.
Not all of those trained locally became military pilots, but were aviators the rest of their lives. An example is Clayton Feldhausen, a 1938 graduate of Chadron High School. While he was attending Chadron State, he was among the early enrollees in the pilot’s program, went on for advanced instruction and instrument rating
According to Betty Reading of Chadron, Feldhausen’s sister, he did not weigh enough to serve as a military pilot, but he returned to help with the pilot training here. He later became an air traffic controller, a corporate pilot and an FAA inspector in Denver and for the entire state of South Dakota.

Reading says her brother took his job seriously. While visiting her in Chadron, he observed a small plane flying below the altitude limit over a congested area.  When the plane landed, he met it and cited the pilot for his actions. 


Editor's Note:  Thanks to Con Marshall for sharing this story.  To see these and more photographs relating to local history, visit our Early Chadron Photo Gallery.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

It's World series time..... let's talks Baseball!

First, a disclaimer.  These cheery guys aren't from Dawes County.  Well, some of them may have lived in Dawes County around the turn of the 20th century, but these fellows played baseball for the team from Beaver Valley east of Chadron.  Yep, in Sheridan County.  But the Chadron team just had to be a favorite opponent!

We're told that this team routinely whopped the Chadron dudes.  Suppose we could do some fact-checking on that, but we like the idea that they beat the city slickers.  You'd think that Chadron would have consistently triumphed over these fellows.   But I'll bet they didn't beat Whitney!

If you're curious to know who this group of ballplayers from yesteryear were, check 'em out in our Baseball Gallery.  A larger resolution photo and name key can be found there, along with a few other old baseball photos.  Thanks to Lawrence Denton for sharing this bit of history.