Sunday, December 20, 2009

Radio guys had impact on AFRTS

For some 70 years, the Armed Forces Radio Service -- now known as the American Forces Radio and Television Service (AFRTS) -- has provided information and entertainment to U.S. military personnel around the world. Technology, of course, has remarkably reshaped the service, which in 2009 delivers programs on a variety of platforms with greater technical sophistication. But its audience has always valued AFRTS, even when it was a scratchy AM radio service in the gloomy, early days of World War II. From crude mobile stations in Europe to small makeshift operations on isolated islands in the south Pacific, Armed Forces Radio brought music, comedy, culture and news to military personnel. Back then, it was about the only real method for giving GIs overseas a taste of home.

Given its longevity and rich history, It’s no big surprise that thousands of broadcasters over the years gained their first real experience in radio and television with AFRTS.

We had the privilege of working with two men who had a big impact upon AFRTS. And both had strong ties to KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska.

Bill Finch – in the years following his selling KCSR to the Huse Publishing Company (licensee of WJAG in Norfolk) in 1959 – eventually landed in Colorado Springs, where he produced and hosted a local big band radio program. We don’t know how the program came to the attention of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, but by the late 1960s, Finch was flying to Hollywood periodically to produce a big band music program called “Finch’s Bandwagon.” This photo shows him visiting with an unidentified Army officer (at left) in an AFRTS production room. Finch's shows were tape recorded and then pressed to audio discs for distribution to stations around the world. These programs aired for a several years on AFRTS and were quite popular with G.I.s around the globe.

The other photo (below right) shows Finch during a recording session with band leader and entrepreneur Lawrence Welk, one of dozens legendary musicians he interviewed for the program.

Unfortunately, we don’t know what’s happened to Bill Finch. A few long-time Colorado broadcasters say they remember him, and they think he moved to North or South Carolina. Alas, efforts to locate him have been unsuccessful.

We remember Finch as a laid back guy with loads of talent. He seems to have vanished from the broadcasting world, and we're not certain he's even still alive.

If Finch was laid back and creative, Bob Thomas was probably a better businessman -- someone who was conservative and paid attention to details. Bob was General Manager of WJAG in Norfolk, Nebraska for many years. In 1958-59, he orchestrated the purchase of KCSR in Chadron for the Huse “Beef Empire Stations.”

During World War II, Thomas was assigned as Officer-in-Charge of the Armed Forces Radio Service shortwave branch in San Francisco, beaming programs to G.I.s across the South Pacific and other regions of the world. It was impressive that the top brass picked a small market Nebraska broadcaster to take on this huge task – a decided compliment to Bob and his achievements at WJAG.

In this photograph, Thomas is seated at his desk in San Francisco. The other two gents are not identified. Thomas once recounted for us how the War Department, at the end of World War II, planned to close down the AFRS operation in New York City. Although his hitch in the Army was about to end, Thomas was sent to New York to begin the closure process. he was soon discharged and went home to Nebraska, only to learn some months later that the War Department actually closed down AFRS San Francisco instead, keeping the New York operation open for several more years. Such are the ways of the military.

It’s been many years since we’ve visited with Bob Thomas. In the 1970s, he was instrumental in helping us write a history of AFRTS as an MS thesis at Iowa State University. Last we knew, he had re-located to the warmer climate of Arizona in retirement. Finch and Thomas had distinctly different approaches to broadcasting and management, but each -- in his own way -- left an indelible mark on this broadcaster and, we believe, on the radio business.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Many memories...

In preparing for a class reunion next summer (July 2010) we’ve been chatting with lots of old classmates – some of whom we’ve not seen for about a half a century. While each of us has memories of specific incidents that may not connect with others, it’s always fun when we happen across common ground. Like the “walkout” of 1961.

Almost everyone remembers it, but each of us remembers slightly different versions. Therein lies the fun… trying to connect the dots….er, years……in a way that makes some sense of those diverging memories.

Another bit of common ground is found when we talk about teachers and administrators. Fortunately, many of us tend to forget the poor or nondescript teacher -- there were a few -- but we have more vivid memories of the ones who impacted our lives in some positive way.

And everyone remembers Mr. Schroeder.

Superintendent of Chadron Public Schools for some 20 years, there’s lots we never really knew about H. A. Schroeder – or “Heinie” as he was known to all the grown-ups. Oh, sure, a few knew about his legendary office paddle, and most of us -- at least the boys -- were impressed with his ability to kick a football to the top of the school building. But we really didn't know much about the man.

After he retired from public education and moved back to eastern Nebraska in 1971, most Chadron High School graduates from his era were off making a living in esoteric places like Rawlins, Alliance, Hyannis, Oelrichs, Rapid City, and even Denver and Omaha!

So by the time Con Marshall wrote an excellent story about Schroeder for the Chadron Record, most of us weren’t around to enjoy it. Let’s correct that here.

With Con Marshall’s blessing, we’re pleased to offer you this news feature from 1982, Schroeders...Many Memories.

Monday, November 23, 2009

A few radio memories...

KCSR Radio had been on the air for only about one year when they placed this display advertisement in the Chadron Record. It included the full weekly program schedule for the 250-watt AM radio station, the first in the far northern reaches of the Nebraska panhandle.

Many of the same programs were still on the air four years later when the Community Service Radio Corporation -- owned by Bob Fouse and Bill Finch -- sold the station to the Beef Empire Stations owned by the Huse Publishing Company out of Norfolk, Nebraska.

You'll find a larger, easier to read version of this schedule, along with a collection of photographs from some of the earlier days of KCSR Radio, by visiting our KCSR Gallery.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Ex-KCSR GM honored in Colorado

by Larry Miller
We’re not the swiftest of messengers, but we do like to share good news about folks who’ve been a part of the Chadron community over the years.

Many of you will remember Jack Miller, a native of Norfolk who moved to Chadron in 1959 to be manager of KCSR Radio. His wife Connie was a nurse for many years at the Chadron Community Hospital, and they both had a big impact on Chadron for the decade or so that they were in the community.

So it was with pride that we wrote a note on our Radio-TV Journal site about having lunch and visiting with Jack and another KCSR veteran, Don Grant, while we were in Fort Collins earlier this year.

Both Jack and Don had come out of WJAG Radio in Norfolk, the oldest licensed radio station in Nebraska. Don returned to Norfolk in short order, but Jack remained in Chadron, becoming involved in a wide range of civic activities, including a long tenure on the hospital board.

Jack and Don were only two of several ex-KCSR staffers who migrated to KCOL radio in Fort Collins in the 1970s. Veteran newsman John DeHaes and programmer Wil Huett both landed there, too. DeHaes had worked for the Chadron Record before switching to broadcast news with stints at KCSR and later at KMMJ in Grand Island. Huett – if memory serves me correctly – had come out of southeast Iowa, perhaps the Keokuk area – before arriving in Chadron.

Of course, they’re all gone from the Chadron scene, but Jack Miller – no relation to yours truly – made quite a splash with Colorado broadcasters. Two years ago, he was named to their Colorado Broadcasters Hall of Fame. Hence, my opening apology for a long delay in acknowledging that recognition.

Jack Miller and Don Grant are retired in Fort Collins, as are – I believe – John DeHaes and Wil Huett. Both John and Wil are widowers. John married a bit later in life to Lorraine Ford, mother of JoAnne and Laurie Ford, Chadron High graduates from the early 1960s.

This posting was spurred by the video tribute to Jack Miller that we found on the worldwide web. We've archived it below. Simply click on the arrow at the bottom left of the image box to see the video. If you watch closely, you can catch a glimpse of John DeHaes, too.

A belated tip of the hat…again…. to Jack Miller!

NOTE:  We're saddened to report that Jack Miller passed away in April of 2013.  You'll find his obituary on our Radio-TV Journal site.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Take me back to the ball game

In the early 1950’s around Chadron – and lots of other communities, I suspect – town kids spent lots of time every summer on baseball diamonds.

That baseball was the American pastime there was no doubt. When we weren’t on the field playing Ward, Midget, or Junior Legion ball, we were gathering for afternoon scrimmages on any lot big enough to accommodate the game. One of our favorite spots was an empty field immediately east of what is now the Miller Building on the Chadron State College campus. These days, that field is occupied by the Reta King Library.

Occasionally, we’d retreat to backyards and improvise a bit with practice golf balls and makeshift bats. We called it “cotton ball,” although it was known by other names, too. Big city kids called it “stick ball.” I remember two types of balls used: one was a foam rubber sphere; the other was a hardened, perforated plastic ball. I preferred the foam rubber ball, which could be more easily manipulated for a wide range of strange pitches from exaggerated curves to drastic dropballs!

Summer evenings were especially fun when there was a Chadron Elks baseball game. The young men and old-timers who comprised this team in the 1950s was a diverse group of guys who shared one common love: baseball. That team deserves a separate story at a later time! From pre-game music over the speaker system to the public address announcing by Walter Hampton – summer fun was in the air, rich with the smell of freshly-popped popcorn - and baseball!

Perched on outfield fenceposts, we kids bided our time, waiting to retrieve the frequent foul balls or homeruns. This was not only a way to see the game – but we were also providing something of a service to team. After all, baseballs didn’t grow on trees, and the 10 cents reward for returned balls could net an industrious kid a buck or two! Few kids who were as adept at chasing and finding foul balls as Kenny Connors, a Prepster whose achievements in the realm of foul-ball chasing were almost legendary. As he confided to me some decades later, it was also a way to occasionally replenish one’s own supply of baseballs. After all, we had to have something to play with when we gathered for our afternoon games.

Another baseball-related cottage industry that kept us off the streets and out of trouble, usually, was collecting and trading baseball cards. Of course, this was a hobby in which anyone could participate, and it was great fun. These were chewing gum cards -- popular long after the tobacco card collectibles of the early 1900s.

I was fortunate enough to team up with Lawrence (Larry) Denton, an older friend, who was a savvy collector and shrewd enough to effectively negotiate the swapping of two Bob Keegan cards for a more valuable Jim Hegan card.

Our big year in the baseball card game was 1953. I was 10 years old. Lawrence and I had bought lots of Topps chewing gum at the Newsy Nook that summer, parlaying a formidable inventory of cards. For each 5 cent-package, the purchaser got five cards – and some really bad gum. Those were the days before parents and merchandisers got into the game, selling and buying entire collections in one fell swoop – snatching from kids the joy we found in collecting and trading cards.

Like so many other things in life, new generation parents want their kids to have everything now, rather than working for it over time. Is it any wonder we’ve seen a whole generation of kids grow up who want and expect to buy a new home while still in their 20s!

With the promise that I would never sell or give away the fruits of our 1953 labors, I kept our card collection neatly tucked away in a cigar box (probably belonging to an old Denton family boarder named Jim York) for decades. In recent years, I’ve moved the cards to a binder that allows me to occasionally revel in the collection, remembering the many happy hours we spent buying, selling, and swapping cards. But our collection is still not complete.

Anybody have a #46 Johnny Klippstein?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Dale Butler tapped for Hall of Fame

Frequently, as I struggle across the golf course and mumble a few curses at my ineptness at the game, I resort to a bit of weak humor.

“They should call this game “If,” I proclaim.

“If only my slice had kicked in, I’d still be in the fairway.”

“If my putt had been just a tad longer, I’d have had a par.”

“If Jim hadn’t interrupted my concentration, that could’ve been a nice drive.”

If, if, if, if.

It’s often a crutch we use to escape the reality of the situation – but it’s not all bad.

Perhaps its real strength is when we use our minds to conjure up possibilities – and then muster the fortitude and commitment to accomplish something. And, doing it without mourning the circumstances of our situation.

I think Dale Butler epitomizes this.

A classmate of mine, Dale was born with just one full arm and a “stub” for the other. I suppose this was a defining fact when I first met Dale as a kid growing up in Chadron, Nebraska. But that limited view didn’t last long.

Kids seem to have a knack of quickly getting beyond the small stuff and focusing on what counts. And for those of us who loved sports, it wasn’t which neighborhood you lived in, or the color of your skin, …or how many arms you had. It was: can you play the game?

Dale was an exceptional athlete. And while I suppose it’s natural to speculate about how great he’d have been with two arms, I’m here to tell you he was great with one arm! And I don’t think any of us who grew up with Dale thought of him as “handicapped” in any way. We thought of him as, well, Dale. In sandlot baseball “workup” games, I remember Dale being among the first choices for a teammate.

Each of us is motivated in different ways. As a kid, I was competitive and worked hard to be as good a basketball player as Larry Matthesen, one of the best ball handlers and shooters ever to come out of Chadron High. I suspect Dale may have been motivated in his own way to achieve excellence.

Perhaps the most important factor in shaping our character is our parents. Dale was blessed with a nuturing home life. I’m certain that parental vision, strength, and commitment helped Dale Butler and his brothers to succeed – not just in sandlot baseball and neighborhood basketball games – but in life.

And Dale has certainly done that.

While many of us have been sports spectators perched in front of our television sets after work, Dale has been active officiating basketball, football, and baseball games over the past four decades. Good friend Con Marshall has crafted this excellent story about Dale’s recent selection to the Nebraska Athletic Hall of Fame. It’s just one measure of Dale’s success. We’re happy to have been a part of his early years, and we’ve admired his many accomplishments in education, business, and life!

Warm congratulations are due Dale for his accomplishments. Well done, good friend, and best wishes to you, Carol, and your family!

Monday, July 13, 2009

It seems like just yesterday...

She may not have been there in person, but the spirit of Margo Means was palpable last weekend at a school reunion in Chadron. It was a joint gathering of students who graduated from Chadron High School in 1958 and 1959.

We had a chance to sneak in to the informal outdoor “picnic” at the home of Cleo Steele Koerber (’58) on Friday evening, hosted by Cleo and her brother, Ben (’59). Despite a thunderstorm – replete with some marble-sized hail – the event was a real success, with folks ducking onto the patio and into the house and garage. It was a pleasurable gathering for attendees to get reacquainted.

Amidst the hugging, conversations, and laughter, we also saw a few tears of joy. Such is the way of classmates who’ve not seen or talked with one another for years – even decades! We snapped a few photos at the event and posted them in our CHS 58-59 Gallery.

Reunions don't just "happen." Lots of obvious hard work went in to planning and executing this one, and we suspect that hometowners Cleo Steele Koerber and Barb Barnum McDaniel from the Class of 1958 and Judy Dau Blundell and Con Marshall from the Class of 1959 led the way. What helped make this reunion particularly special was a terrific informational booklet compiled, produced and distributed by none other than Con Marshall (’59). We’ve all seen similar publications for family or school gatherings – but none like this. With photographs, contact information, and dozens of great anecdotes from reunion participants, this is a collector’s item for any Chadronite from the 1950s!

Scanning through my booklet, I began to notice a pattern emerging. These people really appreciated Chadron High School and most of their teachers. And one name kept popping up repeatedly – Margo Means. Of course, Con quickly noted this trend and wisely wrote about Margo in the booklet, injecting portions of an article he had written about her nearly 40 years ago.

Teachers do make a difference in the lives of their students. Some teachers make a BIG difference. I was touched by the fact that so many memories of Margo Means emerged independently from so many people. She was no pushover. Words like “tough,” “old school,” and “no nonsense” come to mind. But so do words like “understanding,” “student oriented,” and even “compassionate.” To be sure, we all had our favorite teachers, and it appears Mrs. Means was right at the top of the list for many. After her five-year stint at Chadron High School, she taught for another 11 years at Chadron State College and married CSC Business Manager Paul McCawley in 1964.

Chadron is always a busy place during Fur Trade Days. We suspect there were lots of reunion gatherings of old friends in homes, restaurants, bars and parks around town Friday night. Saturday was the really busy day with lots of things planned around Fur Trade Days. Our CHS alumni folks gathered at 9:30 Friday morning to visit some more before climbing aboard a flatbed truck captained by Orville Dau – husband to Judy Blundell Dau (’59) – as part of the Fur Trade Days parade. As modern day parades in rural America go, it wasn’t bad. But with an apparent shortage of marching bands, crepe paper floats, and teenage ingenuity, it fell far short of parades a half century ago. I mean, how many tractors, riding lawn mowers, and old cars does it take to “make” a parade these days?

After the parade broke up, attendees were left to their own devices, but we saw many wandering around the Fur Trade Days booths on the courthouse grounds. More than a few people sampled the tasty desserts on the lawn just outside the Congregational Church. I believe others explored new exhibits at the impressive Dawes County Museum south of town. And almost everyone “dragged Main Street” to see just how much things had changed. Chadron Prep alums were also in town over the weekend, too, so there was an opportunity to visit with some of the “Junior Eagles.”

Alas, we did not attend the CHS evening banquet at the old Legion Club, but we understand that good friends and former teachers Ron and Jane Becker drove in from Sioux Falls for the event. LaVona Smith Lemmons and her husband, Larry, came from North Platte to join the festivities, too. Another former teacher and coach, Verne Lewellen, had hoped to attend, but was undergoing rabies treatment as a result of an altercation with a cat some time back. He and Erma live in Mitchell, Nebraska.

We’re told the Legion Club gathering went off without a hitch – lots of good food and some great story telling. All in all, it was an excellent ending for a wonderful reunion weekend.

It’s worth mentioning that a dozen or so CHS alums toured the old school Saturday afternoon. Many commented on just how good the three-story structure looks after all these years. Of course, there’ve been some major renovations – but enough remains of the old building to evoke lots of memories. There’s no auditorium in the building – now used as the Middle School – but as you walk the halls, you can almost hear the class bells ringing and leather slapping the floor as late-comers race to class.

And perhaps even the ominous echo of Principal Jim Myers – after squinting his eyes while gazing upon some tomfoolery in a classroom – admonishing us with:

“Nothing to do?..........Don’t do it here!”

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wayne Jones (1944-2009)

Life-long Chadron resident and good friend Wayne Jones has died (7/4/09) at age 65. He passed away at the Chadron Community Hospital following a four-year battle with respiratory problems.

Wayne graduated from Chadron High School in 1962 and Chadron State College in 1966. He chose to stay in the community and raise his children there. Recognized as a successful teacher and administrator, he worked in the Chadron Public Schools for some 33 years – 21 of them as principal at Chadron High School.

Wayne grew up on a ranch about 13 miles northeast of Chadron along White River. I always had an interest in his home place, since it was there that my mother – Lettie (Maiden) Miller – was born and raised a generation earlier. Several times, Wayne graciously offered to give me a tour of the ranch when I was back in Chadron; alas, that tour would never take place.

Details about Wayne’s passing were included in this news story written by Con Marshall for the Chadron Record. Wayne's obituary appears in the Record as well.

Con’s story recounts how Wayne never abandoned his farm background. He was apparently the last CHS graduate to earn the State Farmer degree awarded by the Future Farmers of America. He routinely returned to the family ranch to help with calving and other chores.

We had last visited with Wayne and his wife, Suze, two years ago when the CHS Class of 1962 had its reunion. We posted several pictures from that gathering, including some of Wayne, in a reunion photo gallery.
Wayne’s leadership transcended education. He was active in the community and served as a member of the Chadron Community Hospital Board of Directors for more than two decades. While we knew of these and many other endeavors by Wayne over the years, we didn’t know about his organizing the Christmas lighting project at Finnegan Park.

Wayne and Suze lived near the park, and he apparently played a key role in helping turn the park into a “holiday showplace,” as Con described it. Having spent much time playing in that park as a youngster, I have a special fondness for it. While it’s too late to express my appreciation to Wayne for this deed, I’m making it a point to join others in visiting Finnegan Park next Christmas. And then I’ll remember – and thank -- our good friend Wayne Jones for his many contributions to the kids of Chadron and the entire community.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to Suze Jones, daughters Heidi and Heather, and the entire Jones family. Wayne was a class act and will be missed sorely by the Chadron community and all who knew him.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A walk in the woods

During a late night Skype conversation with brother John in San Diego this week (5/23/09), he shared the news that a 4.7 earthquake had shaken central California east of Fresno earlier in the day.

This bit of natural disaster news got me to wondering: whatever happened to King’s Chair, the huge boulder that once sat atop one of the pine hills just south of Chadron State College? Did tremors from an earthquake cause it to roll down the hill and crumble into pieces? Was it viewed as a safety hazard and demolished to keep some wanton waif from falling off and cracking his head open? Or, perhaps time simply weathered it down bit-by-bit, and my aging eyes just can’t discern it anymore?!

These are some of the grave questions I occasionally ponder whenever I’m thinking about Chadron or heading back there for a visit. Since I wasn’t able to see the landmark when last I visited Chadron, the above questions started percolating in my mind. I simply refuse to believe that my wits have teamed up with my vision and have taken leave of my body……but that’s probably more plausible than the other possibilities.

Lots of Chadron kids used to trek around in those hills – and perhaps still do, although many homes, including those in “Hidden Valley,” have encroached upon much of the terrain.

John and I enjoyed reminiscing about a few noteworthy places scattered through those hills. There was Koske Dam, Sacrifice Cave, Blue Rock Cave, and another some of us used to call Paradise Valley.

One of my buddies – I don’t know who – snapped this photo more than 50 years ago at the entrance to Blue Rock Cave. Lawrence Denton is atop the cave, and I’m next to the entry. Alas, that might’ve been my final encounter with Blue Rock Cave, since my attempted pilgrimage back to the cave some years later was a real bust. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, I was going to show my son one of “my special places” where I played as a kid. Kind of a “rite of passage” thing. So we put on our hiking shoes and headed for the hills. Two hours later, we had traipsed over C Hill, scaled King’s Chair, hiked to the “new” water tank, and visited what I remembered as Paradise Valley. Sacrifice Cave was beyond my endurance, so we didn’t even try that.

But the centerpiece of the hike was to be Blue Rock Cave. We covered a lot of ground that day, but we (I) never found the cave. I suspect my now 41-year-old son wonders if there really is such a place – or ever was.

Let the above photo serve as evidence that there really was such a place – and I was there! Unfortunately, my stint in the Junior Forest Rangers Club was brief, and my navigational skills slipped away over the years, and Blue Rock Cave was never again found – by me, anyway.

Perhaps I’ll take a GPS unit next time. At least I’ll know where I am when I don’t find the cave.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Andrew Carnegie to the rescue

While rummaging through a box of old photographs and letters belonging to an aunt who lives in Wyoming, I happened across an unused postcard emblazoned with this image of the Chadron Public Library.
Built in 1912 at 512 Bordeaux in Chadron, its design is comparable to many libraries across the country that were funded in whole or part by Andrew Carnegie. A wealthy industrialist from Scotland, his successful steel business in Pittsburgh eventually evolved into U.S. Steel. He was responsible for more than 3,000 libraries across the United States alone -- others were in Canada, Scotland, Australia, and elsewhere.

Like other recipients of Carnegie's benevolence, Chadron had to provide both a site and ample operating money for the facility, which they've done over the years. The library had a major renovation in 1964. As it approaches a century of service, the Chadron Public Library seems to be a busy place, according to its web site, but I find no reference to the initial cost of the structure.

Alas, I wish I'd spent more time there as a kid. Growing up only about four blocks from the library, it would have been an easy walk. I suspect I spent more time in the Chadron State College library during my freshman year at the college than I collectively spent in in the public library while attending East Ward, Junior High and Chadron High School.

The postcard shown here was created by Bloom Bros., Inc. out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and when created, it required only one penny to send the card anywhere in the United States. I like the rather "painted" style used in colorizing the image -- a fairly common practice after the turn of the century.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

...about Miss Koch

So, who was Ross Armstrong? And Beatrice Koch? And Doris Gates?

Anyone who’s ever had a relationship with Chadron State College probably knows who Ross Armstrong was. The long-time coach, Athletic Director, Dean, and foundation administrator impacted the lives of thousands of young men and women – some more than others. Today, most students at CSC know of Armstrong only as the man for whom the Armstrong Building is named.

Names like Armstrong, Kline, Koch, Thoendel, Andrews, Gates, and many others, remain vivid for lots of us – whose ties and associations with the college reach back to the 1950s and earlier.

After meetings last weekend on the CSC campus – recalling several Chadron State faculty members who left their marks on students – I decided to share some thoughts about a few of those teachers who touched my life in a special way. In coming days, we’ll reminisce about some of those folks. But this particular posting will focus on a pert professor who had a big impact on many CSC students – including this writer.

I was only three years old when 51-year-old Beatrice Koch came to Nebraska State Teachers College at Chadron as a member of the English Department. A native of Fullerton, Nebraska, she was a graduate of the University of Nebraska. She later earned an M.A. at Columbia University. After a two-year stint teaching at Rising City, she had moved to Norfolk, where she taught high school from 1920 to 1943.

Among her many students at Norfolk: entertainer Johnny Carson and U.S. Senator Gale McGee of Wyoming.

During World War II, Bea Koch volunteered to work in the Fitzsimons Army Hospital (shown at left) near Denver, but in 1945, she returned to the classroom in Plattsmouth, Nebraska. In 1946, she came to Chadron and would teach English at the college until she reached the Nebraska mandatory teacher retirement age of 70 years.

I cannot remember Miss Koch walking anywhere without a sense of purpose. I still can hear the “clickety-click” sound of her high heel shoes moving her down the hall of the Administration Building at warp speed when I took her Freshman Composition and Introduction to Literature classes in 1961-62. By that time, I had been working as an announcer at KCSR Radio for nearly three years, and I remember Miss Koch taking me aside after one class and gently – but pointedly – reminding me that I had a “special responsibility” since my work on the radio would be heard by many people.

“Take care to do the best that you can,” she admonished me. My frequent relapses with the English language over 50 years in broadcasting would often cause me to be haunted – with appreciation – by Miss Koch’s words.

Forced to step down from teaching in Nebraska, she moved to Huron, South Dakota, and taught another eight years before retiring.

Our long-time friend Jim Zeman, a Chadron native who graduated from the college and went on to a prestigious career on the faculty at Northern State in Aberdeen, South Dakota, had at least one class under Koch and remembered her as very much “a traditional English teacher” who was full of energy.

Con Marshall, retired CSC Director of Information, probably knows more about Chadron State College and its graduates than anyone else, told me recently that Miss Koch had a real impact on his career and that "she's a big reason I made it through college."

And Con remembers this anecdote. “She once said that the reason she never married was she’d never met a man she couldn’t live without!” Koch was definitely independent, but not without a sense of purpose – and humor. He also recalls hearing that Miss Koch had a twin sister and that they excelled at tennis as University of Nebraska co-eds. Con concedes that the story may not be verifiable, but I think it's probably true -- or it should be!

Beatrice Koch was active in education for more than half a century, and in 1984 she was awarded the Chadron State College Distinguished Service Award for her significant contribution to the college. She died December 28, 1989.

But I still can hear that clear and forceful admonishment from the diminutive Miss Koch:

Take care to do the best that you can.”

Saturday, April 11, 2009

CHS alumnus drowns in Mississippi

News reports from Meridian, Mississippi, delivered the sad news that Don Mathis, a standout athlete at Chadron High School in the 1950s, drowned Thursday afternoon (4/9/09) in a boating accident.

Don was a 1955 graduate of CHS, where he played football and basketball. He was the fullback and placekicker on the Cardinal's undefeated 1954 team. He went on to play center for the Chadron State Eagles and later earned entry into the CSC Athletic Hall of Fame. Don and his wife, Wyoma (Brown), moved to Mississippi many years ago, where they operated a successful small business just south of Meridian.

According to WTOK-TV in Meridian, rescue officials believed Don may have been trying to get his boat onto a trailer and that perhaps the boat started to drift. The accident occurred at Okatibbee Lake northwest of Meridian. The Lauderdale County coroner said Don Mathis was pulled from the lake late Thursday afternoon after a search of the area by divers. His boat had been seen floating empty in the lake.

Only last month, we had told the story about Don and some of his buddies making a trek to Yellowstone Park in 1955 -- Youthful adventures of the 1950s. Their trek took place shortly after Don had graduated from high school, and they took some pictures along the way. After graduating at Chadron State College in 1959, Don taught school in Taylor, Nebraska; Hot Springs, South Dakota, and Fort Dodge, Iowa, before moving to Mississippi.

A teammate on the 1952-53 basketball team at Chadron High, Mike Smith, has noted in an e-mail that Don is the latest of several CHS athletes from the early 1950s who've passed away. Others were John Christopher, Tom Blundell, Lou Riemenschneider, and Bill McCarter.

We have fond memories of visiting with Don and Wyoma Mathis in Chadron during an all-school reunion some years back. It was a bit of serendipity that, like Don and Wyoma, we also lived in Mississippi -- but we all had to return to Chadron to share memories! Until checking upon Don's graduation from CSC in the Alumni Directory this week, I didn't know that he and I shared another common experience -- we both went to graduate school at Iowa State University in Ames.

Don Mathis was 72 years old when he died. An on-line obituary can be found at this link to the Meridian Star. Addional information about Don's career can be found in a story published on-line by the Chadron Record on April 14, 2009. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Wyoma and the entire Mathis family over their loss.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Curly's Corral

Trips to Colorado to visit our son in Wheat Ridge often conjure up memories of Colorado broadcasters who helped lay the groundwork for KCSR in Chadron.

The other day we wrote about a recent visit with ex-KCSR managers Jack Miller and Don Grant, who both live in Fort Collins. That delightful interlude caused me to remember Bill "Curly" Finch, a co-owner of KCSR when it went on the air in 1954. Among other places, I'm sure, Finch was once at KRAI in Craig, Colorado, before teaming up with Bob Fouse to establish the new radio station in Chadron.

While Finch was later known worldwide for playing big band music as host of Finch's Bandwagon on the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, he also had a bit of country in him. Well, I'm not absolutely sure about that, but I do believe he understood the importance of country music to folks in western Nebraska, so he launched Curly's Corral on KCSR. It was a showcase for local talent, including long-time radio host Ellis "Peabody" Hale and another well-known musician, Russ Garner. They're among the musicians in the photo below.

Included in this scene are (L-R): Bob Rinker, Ellis "Peabody" Hale, Russ Garner, Unknown, Neville Sits Poor, Bill "Curly" Finch, Joe Crossdog, Harry Hanson, Howard Parker, Dave Parker, and Gordon Benson.

Live broadcasts of Curly's Corral were staged on Saturday afternoons in the small KCSR studio at 212 Bordeaux in Chadron; I don't recall other venues, but I'm sure their were remote broadcasts from other locations; I was a teenager and more inclined at that time toward Pat Boone and Elvis Presley.

Finch would often engage in some spontaneous tomfoolery. Big band music really was his "schtick," and I recall one weekday afternoon when he played "One O'clock Jump" by Count Basie, then proceeded to play every other version of the tune that we had in the library. I was amazed at how long it took to accomplish the task -- and wonder how many listeners actually stayed with it!

While Finch was a shameless promoter, he had a real knack for understanding what an audience wanted. He remained in the wings while a creative Bob Fouse and witty Cliff Pike took the limelight with their popular morning show Breakfast with the Boys. I don't know whether Curly's Corral was his brainchild -- or Ellis Hale's -- but it certainly couldn't have succeeded without Finch's support and involvement. I don't recall Finch ever playing an instrument or singing, but he certainly was the perfect host for the program that carried his moniker.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

KCSR vets retired in Colorado

We think Dennis Brown and his crew do an excellent job operating KCSR in Chadron. Its focus on the community and abundance of local programming help it continue a tradition that was started back in the 1950s.
It was fun visiting this week (3/24/09) with two fellows who helped shape KCSR back in those days..

While taking refuge in Denver from a massive snowstorm across the Black Hills and the high plains, we took a side trip to Fort Collins. That’s home now for both Jack Miller and Don Grant, broadcast veterans who at one time worked – as did I – for the “Beef Empire Stations” owned by the Huse Publishing Company, publisher of the Norfolk (Nebr) Daily News.

The photo here -- taken in Jack Miller's driveway in Fort Collins -- shows Don Grant (left) with Jack donning his trusty Navy baseball cap.

Jack Miller was named Manager of KCSR in August 1959, when the station was bought by the Norfolk group. A native of Norfolk and a Navy veteran who served aboard ship during the Korean War, Jack cut his broadcast teeth announcing and selling for WJAG beginning in 1956. Don, who hailed from LeMars, Iowa, was an Army veteran and attended the University of South Dakota after he left the service. He also worked at WJAG and did a stint at the Chadron station.

The “Beef Empire Stations” included flagship station WJAG in Norfolk, KVSH in Valentine, and KCSR in Chadron. The group later expanded to include KCOL in Fort Collins, Colorado. In 1971, Jack took the helm of KCOL, bringing along several of the KCSR staff – including Don Grant (Sales), John DeHaes (News), and Wil Huett (Programming). Many folks will remember John DeHaes as a reporter with the Chadron Record for a few years before swapping printer's ink for a microphone. He married long-time Chadron resident Lorraine Ford, who has since passed away in Fort Collins.

Jack’s leadership at KCOL continued well into the 1980s before the station was sold. He twice served on the Board of Directors for the Colorado Broadcasters Association and was named “Broadcaster of the Year” in 1981. Not surprisingly, KCOL was strong on local service during those years, and instituted local editorials – not something lots of local broadcasters were always willing to undertake. Appropriately, Jack was named to the Colorado Broadcasters “Hall of Fame” in 2007.

Seeing Don Grant was a real bonus. Since we had worked together for only about a year (and I was a part-timer still going to school), I’m surprised he remembered me at all. Jack waxed eloquent about Don’s superb sales skills – of which I have no doubt. Don remains as I remembered him from 50 years ago – a warm and personable guy. Beyond our common friends and co-workers at KCSR, it was a further surprise when he revealed that he had spent time in Vermillion, South Dakota. We also lived in Vermillion and worked on the USD campus, albeit some 30 years after Don had been there. Still, we both remembered “Monk” Johnson and Martin Busch, both well-known broadcasters across South Dakota in those years. Don and I also spent time working in the Sioux City market.

I believe Don Grant said that another veteran broadcaster, Kent Slocum, was from his hometown of LeMars. I remember Kent from his years at KOTA in Rapid City. Wonder where he is these days?

After many years at KCOL, Don later returned for an encore at WJAG in Norfolk.

During our morning discussion, which was continued over lunch at Red Lobster, we tossed out names of one-time colleagues, and occasionally we all three would remember someone – or a memorable incident that would bring a chuckle. Like the case of the “sleeping announcer.”

But that’s another story……for another time

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A ring of Whitney memories

While working on the driveway of his home just west of Chadron recently, Richard Bates discovered a ring. Not just any ring, but an old high school class ring from a school that’s been closed for more than half a century.

Bates, who works for the postal service, could barely read the initials on the ring, but Whitney was emblazoned across the front of it. He knew of Whitney, the small community in western Dawes County that in another era aspired to be the county seat. But how to go about finding the owner of the ring?

A stop at the jewelry store confirmed that the initials on the ring were “GC,” and its small size suggested that it had belonged to a girl. The date on the ring was 1930.

Bates inquired informally of a few friends, and then visited our
Whitney Reflections website in search of a possible owner of the ring. He sent an e-mail inquiry to Whitney Reflections, and we referred back to a late 1930s Shunga newsletter that listed Whitney High School graduates up to that date. Fortunately, they were listed by year, and the evidence promptly pointed toward 1930 graduate Gwen Connell – the correct gender, and the only one with those inititals!

We called Bob and Ruth Ann Connell in Chadron and Bob Galey in Whitney, all good sources for historical information about Whitney. Bob Galey asked where the ring had been found and observed that Gwen (Connell) Walcott’s daughter, Carolyn, and Carolyn's late husband Bobby Bickford, had lived in the same area, a couple of miles west of Chadron.

Confirming with Rich Bates that his house, built in 1957, had once belonged to Bobby Bickford, we determined that the ring almost certainly had belonged to Gwen Walcott, who probably passed it along to her daughter Carolyn Walcott Bickford.

In early efforts to find a family member and return the ring, I called brother John Miller to find out what he knew about any of Gwen Connell Walcott's children. Although closer in age with Gene Walcott, John knew only the whereabouts of Gordon Walcott, one-time Air Force pilot, now living in Austin, Texas. By the time I had tracked this information down, Rich Bates had done some investigating of his own and found contact information for Carolyn Bickford’s son, Rick, who apparently still lives in the area. Carolyn, according to Ruth Ann Connell, lives in a Broken Bow nursing home. Gwen Walcott was an older sister to Bob Connell.

We’re happy that the ring is on its way back into the hands of a family member – and thankful that its finder was committed to seeing it returned to its owner. Thanks to postal worker Rich Bates for delivering this heirloom.....and a good story!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Youthful adventures of the 1950s

It was August of 1955. Bill Haley & the Comets were setting the music charts afire with "Rock Around the Clock," and Ray Kroc opened the first McDonald's restaurant in Des Plaines, Illinois.
Five young Chadron boys gathered their camping gear and tossed it atop a Plymouth owned by Elwin Wohlers, and prepared for a memorable trip to Yellowstone National Park. From prairie dogs and bears to spectacular scenery -- like Tower Falls (at right) -- they were to get an up-close glimpse of nature's bounty.

Those boys were Windy Wohlers, Don Mathis, John Miller, Ron Jones and Wayne Lecher. Wohlers and Mathis had just graduated from Chadron Prep and Chadron High. Miller, Jones and Lecher would be returning to high school that fall. This was their final hurrah for the summer.

At least one of the group, John Miller, took along a camera and snapped a few photos. These are but a few of the moments captured during their trip more than a half-century ago. John's Yellowstone photos help bring back a few memories of youthful adventures!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Early KCSR broadcaster dies

Long-time friend and mentor Freeman Hover passed away last Monday (2/9/09) in Tucson, Arizona. He was 79. A Memorial Mass will be held at noon on Monday, March 1, 2009, at St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church in Tucson, Arizona. That's the day Freeman would have turned 80 years old.

A warm and personable man, he was both a broadcaster and educator, professions that he pursued with great enthusiasm and commitment.

We first met "Free" in 1957, not long after he started his radio career at KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska, just a year or so before I began working at the same station. A native of Plymouth, Michigan, Freeman Hover earned a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Denver in 1951. By the mid-1950s, he was pursuing his first broadcast job at KCSR in Chadron.

As was true in most small market stations, Freeman Hover did it all. He was News Director at KCSR, but he had a wide range of interests in broadcasting -- one of them was "Top 40" music. He hosted "Club 949" (the station's Post Office box number) and "Top 40 Time." He became well known throughout the region, but decided to pursue opportunities elsewhere when the station was sold in 1959 to Huse Publishing out of Norfolk, Nebraska.

After a short stint in North Dakota, Hover headed toward the desert southwest and a job with the Doubleday station in Phoenix. Having earned a Master's degree from the University of Colorado, he turned his attention to education and became a classroom teacher. He eventually settled in Tucson. By all accounts, he was a top flight teacher, and he eventually won a spot in the Arizona Journalism Hall of Fame.

We have fond memories of visiting Freeman in Tucson in the late 1980s and again in the 1990s while attending public broadcasting meetings there. His love for history and the southwest was obvious, as was his pride for having been involved in the "rock and roll" era. While at KCSR, he had conducted a rare interview with the legendary Buddy Holly and a number of other popular artists of the time, including Eddie Cochran and Jimmy Bowen.

We remember Freeman as a kind and generous individual, and he certainly was an inspiration to me and many aspiring broadcasters and journalists who had the good fortune to cross paths with him.

You'll find a full obituary for Freeman Hover in the Arizona Daily Star.

Below is a short video tribute to Freeman, recognizing his time with KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska, where he left a legacy of many friends......and even more memories.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Penny Postcard extravaganza

There are many great genealogy sites on the internet, and one of them is U.S. GenWeb, which offers a wide range of resources. One that we had seen some months ago -- but haven't used much -- came across our desk again last week, thanks to Dan Contonis of Spearfish, a native of Alliance, Nebraska.

It focuses upon old picture postcards that have historical value, and it's quite a treasure trove. This shot of Main Street in Chadron was likely created in the 1920s or early '30s. The old Pace Theatre building is readily identifiable on the right, and I believe that would be the Pullman Cafe immediately across the street on the left-hand side. There are several other Chadron cards in the collection, and you can check them out on this page of U.S. GenWeb.

Of course, there are many more of these penny postcards from all across Nebraska and the entire country. It's a fun site and easy to get lost in it for hours. Give it a try!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Maika Drug Store

With a tip of the hat to Chris Fankhauser at KCSR, we're able to add a bit of information to our earlier posting about H. F. Maika, who operated a drug store in the early days of Chadron.

Chris recently sent me the following note:

...Henry F. Maika operated HF Maika Drug Store at 117 W. 2nd Street in Chadron beginning in 1912. Mr. Maika passed away in April of 1934, and his wife, Minerva, operated the drug store after that. She passed away in March of 1955. Sometime prior to her death, she allowed someone else to operate the drug store, and it was called Olsen Drug, and then in 1946, Henry Freed purchased the property, and added it to his existing furniture store, which was in operation in Chadron for many years. Hope this helps fill in the gaps. Also, the Maikas came from Rock Falls, IL.

Brother John recently sent me a few old issues of the Chadron Record, and that's where I found a January 9, 1964 story about Dennis Armstrong, pastor of the Church of Christ (Christian) Church in Chadron in the early 1960s.

Although I didn't remember it at the time, I subsequently recalled that Dennis had married Mabelle Maika. The 1964 story in the Record indicated that the Armstrongs were off to Norfolk, Nebraska where he intended to enroll at Nebraska Christian College. I suspect Mabelle Armstrong could provide much information about the old Maika Drug Store in Chadron.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Green Rivers.....gone forever!

Even small high plains communities like Chadron, Goodland, Torrington, and Winner had drugstores with soda fountains in the mid-20th century. It was a place where folks could not only get their prescriptions filled, they could also enjoy a cup of coffee, a Coca-Cola, or perhaps even a sandwich – all from the “soda fountain."

If you happened to live in a somewhat larger community, like Rapid City, Cheyenne, North Platte, Alliance, or Hays, you might have had access to an F.W. Woolworth store. It was a place we rural kids seldom had a chance to visit, but it was a pretty cool place with lots of “stuff” and a lunch counter that far surpassed the limited number of grilled items you could buy at the corner drugstore.

When a friend sent the Woolworth menu shown here, it immediately brought back memories of the three drugstores I remember in Chadron during the 1950s, all of them on the west side of the 200 block of Main Street.

Perhaps the most popular and successful was Saults Drug, owned Joe Saults. By the time it moved from the corner of 2nd and Main to a new building on the corner of 3rd and Main, “Saults Corner Drug” carried a wide array of merchandise, including greeting cards and gift items. While the pharmacy remained the nucleus of the business, teenagers continued to gravitate to the soda fountain. Interestingly, Joe Saults had relatives in Gordon who operated another Saults Drug, which for many years was every bit as successful as Joe’s operation in Chadron – perhaps moreso.

Least popular of the drugstores – at least for teens – was Thompson Drug, just a few doors north from Highway 20 on the west side of Main. Operated by "Tope" Thompson, I remember Thompson Drug as smaller than either Service Drug or Saults Drug, but it, too, carried retail merchandise and had a soda fountain in the back. For some of us, it was the place to order Green River drinks, a lemon-lime concoction that seemed to be a fountain specialty. Some years later, I was surprised to read in the Chadron, Nebraska Centennial History that "Tope" Thompson had been a “high muckamuck” in the Nebraska Ku Klux Klan back in the 1920s.

Service Drug was another hangout for teens and was operated by Paul Kampfe for many years. By the 1960s, Thompson Drug had gone out of business and only Service Drug and Saults Drug remained for several years.

Soda fountains intended for “real” customers were often overtaken by teens after school and on weekends. It was probably a mixed blessing for drugstore owners, and they eventually did away with soda fountains. I doubt they ever generated any real profit for the store and eventually became too much trouble.

My source of Green Rivers is gone forever!