Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Crawford grads were honored on cusp of "Crash"

by Larry Miller

In the spring of 1929 – a few months before "Black Tuesday" (October 29) and the onslaught of the massive stock market crash that ushered the Great Depression – it was happy times for the graduates of Crawford High School. Their achievements were recognized and celebrated.  The Crawford Tribune ran this huge display ad from local businesses, congratulating the new graduates.  It listed a few business and family names that linger today – and many more that are unknown to newer generations.


Bruer & Son was started in 1915 by John Bruer, born seven miles west of Crawford in 1891 and whose family moved to town in 1910.  As a teenager, he and friend Walter Forbes reportedly traveled the world in 1910-1911 before returning to Dawes County to work on various ranches.  In 1915, he started Bruer & Son, the John Deere implement dealership in Crawford.  The following year in Omaha, he married Pearl Dolen.  They would raise two sons and a daughter.  John Bruer was president of the old Tri-State Fair Board for many years and helped organize the Crawford Rodeo.  He was a fireman, served on the city council and school board, was a Rotarian, and pursued other civic interests.  While he died in 1959, Bruer & Son implement continued to operate for many years and was among the oldest continuous businesses in Crawford well into the latter half of the 20th century.

Dr. B. F. Richards practiced medicine in Crawford for 46 years.  Born in Ohio in 1874, he went to medical school in Kansas City before moving to Crawford in 1903.  He and his wife, Emma, were active in civic affairs.  Not only did he serve as mayor of Crawford for many years, he was president of the Chamber of Commerce and served on both the city council and the school board.  He retired in 1949, the same year that his wife died.  Dr. Richards moved to Arizona to be near his daughter, Wanda, and her family.    He died in the 1950's and was buried beside his wife in Milford, Ohio.

We're sure that there are interesting stories behind all of these businesses – and many others, too.    Perhaps we'll unearth more down the road.  Our thanks to the folks who put together the 1961 Crawford "Souvenir Book" for its 75-year celebration.  Most of this information came from that publication.  For a peek at a few other early day Crawford photos, visit our Early Crawford Area Gallery.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Chadron Hested Store – a part of yesteryear

by Larry Miller

As a kid growing up in Chadron in the years following World War II, we had some favorite places in downtown Chadron.

Now, we're talking about those years BEFORE adolescence dictated visits to the soda fountain at Saults Drug or Thompson Drug to hang out with other teens – all trying to impress members of the opposite sex while enjoying the latest flavored Coke or malt.  And certainly before later teen years at the Sun, trying to win at the pinball machine without a "Tilt."

Of course, if movies at the Pace Theatre were involved, that called for a stop up the street – movie ticket stub in hand – to the Newsy Nook for some candy.  From Licorice Snaps and Cinnamon Bears to Bit-O-Honeys and Big Hunks, it seemed that Mame Finney and Phyllis Wagner had just about anything we were looking for.  And even though it required some budgeting (after all, we couldn't afford everything!) we could still make do with 11 cents.

The quarter allowance on Saturdays would handle the 14 cents admission fee to the theatre, leaving all of those remaining 11 cents to pick-and-choose some treats from Newsy Nook.  And it seemed to be enough.

But perhaps as popular as any business in downtown Chadron in those years was the Hested Store.  It was a "five-and-dime," but we always called it Hested's, not to be confused with O'Banion's dime store just across the street on second and Main.  Hested's not only had a variety of candies – they had hot peanuts and an assortment of other nuts, too!  That provided a bit of nourishment while browsing through the toy section.

In 1946, the Hested Store in Chadron held a "Grand Opening" to celebrate a store expansion.

The Hested store was pretty good sized and offered everything from housewares and jewelry to greeting cards and clothing.  I recall they even had an assortment of bicycles – but perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me.

Illinois-born Edward James Hested was in his 30s and operating a general merchandise store in Lake City, Iowa, before opening his own variety store in Fairbury, Nebraska in 1909.  He sold a little bit of everything.   Two years later, he expanded into several other southeast Nebraska communities.  By 1940, there were about 40 Hested stores doing business in Iowa, Wyoming, and Nebraska – later expanding into Colorado.  Hested Stores were our heartland version of Woolworth and Kresge stores that populated much of the rest of the country. 

In 1960, according to the Nebraska State Historical Society, there were an estimated 100 Hested-affiliated stores in nine states.

Shown at right is an undated photo of the Hested Store in Laramie, Wyoming, with a store front very similar to the one in Chadron. Hested Stores merged with the J.J. Newberry Company of New York that year.  When the Newberry stores were bought by a Dallas corporation in 1972, the old Hested stores started shutting their doors.

We don't know for sure exactly what year the Hested Store opened and closed in Chadron.  But we do know it was a downtown mainstay for several decades, employing lots of people over the years, and offering small town folks lots of discounted merchandise – including those hot peanuts!  

Monday, May 29, 2017

70 Years Ago – Who won this sleek new Studebaker?

This item appeared in the Chadron Record in the summer of 1946.   Do you
know who won the car?  If so, drop us an e-Mail.  We would like to know.

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!