Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Who's in First?

Floanne "Bunny" Apa Nitsch was kind enough to share this First Grade photograph taken at
East Ward school in about 1951. It's the latest of several class photographs we've begun collecting from Chadron Public Schools over the years.

Many of these youngsters went on to graduate with the CHS Class of 1963. Teacher Myrtle Forbes is standing at right. You'll likely need to click on the photo to see a larger image, or you can visit our Chadron Public Schools Gallery and select an even larger image from the menu

We need help identifying many of these folks. So send us an e-mail with your thoughts, or you can just leave them in the Comments link below this posting. Those who can be identified include:

Front Row
(left-to-right): Ron Wilkinson, Jolene Byerly, David Hood, Janie Irish, ?, Jim Coleman, Junie Clark, Don Richardson, Tom Saults, and ?;

Middle Row
: Pam Peterson, ?, Janice Adkins, Floanne Apa, Jerry Bauman, Barbara Haag, Cy Hall, Judy Gatzmeyer;

Back Row: Bob Doell, ?, ?, ?, Linda Strom, Bob Sewell, Dianna Marcinkiewicz, Rick Carlson, Pam Jones and Lois Sloniker.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Visitor from Pepper Creek Ranch

We’ve been fascinated with family history for a long time.

Thanks largely to a burgeoning sector of gray-haired baby boomers, genealogy remains one of the fastest growing hobbies in the country. Computers have become an invaluable resource, and reams of new data are added every week.

Much to our chagrin, we’ve come to learn that not everyone shares our passionate yearning to know more about our ancestors. Young people, particularly, seem almost immune to contracting this affliction, but many will eventually succumb.

Some time back, we happened across this poem, Visitor, penned by Chadron native Jill (Colwell) Burkey. Jill's piece Pregunta won first place in the 2009 Denver Woman’s Press Club’s Unknown Writer’s Poetry Contest. But it was her honorable mention entry, Visitor, that really caught our attention. We were moved when we heard her read it, and she has graciously allowed us to share her poem here. You need not be a genealogist to appreciate the truism that it conveys.


When you are a child, you assume
you will go on never knowing anyone
who rests beneath a sad stone.
Death is before your time –
just a name and date your parents visit.
Then one day in June, you’re thirty-four,
buy a dozen light-pink roses
and deliver the better part of your bouquet
to the cluster of graves that is now your family –
the grandpa who called you "frizzletop,"
the great aunt who always served dilled beans.

So much history in too little ground,
but there they are, mingling
at a permanent cocktail party, sitting
two by two on a long car trip,
a tall dandelion the groundskeepers missed
now an arm waving to you out the window.

The four leftover roses you bring home
wilt by your windowsill, and you begin
to feel the wheel on the watch turn
towards your generation, the engraver’s
chisel itching to scratch your name.
--Jill Burkey

Copyright 2007

Jill grew up on Pepper Creek Ranch, twenty-two miles south and eight miles east of Chadron. Her great-grandparents, Earle and Jeannette Colwell, founded the ranch in 1915.

A 1990 graduate of Chadron High School, Jill went on to earn a BA in English and Business at Nebraska Wesleyan University. She married Todd Burkey, and they moved to Grand Junction, Colorado, where she is now a freelance writer and stay-at-home mother of two elementary-aged children, Parker, 8, and Brooke, 6.

That’s Jill and family in the photograph at right. Just click on the image to see a larger version.

Many old-timers will remember Mr. and Mrs. Bill Colwell, who ran the Pepper Creek Ranch for many years. The Colwells were also involved in a wide range civic affairs in the region. Their son John Colwell – Jill’s father – was a 1961 graduate of Chadron High School, and that class is planning a reunion next summer (July 2010) in Chadron. John and Peggy were quite well known in and around Chadron for many years. They now divide their time between Grand Junction, Colorado and Arizona.

Many thanks to Jill Burkey for sharing this great poem – and photographs – with us.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A blast from the past: Colacino's

Ask almost anyone who grew up in northwest Nebraska in the mid-20th century about Colacino’s, and you’ll see a smile emerge – along with lots of memories!

Really old-timers will recall when the place was known as Kelso’s Pavilion. It was located along U.S. Highway 20 about two miles east of Chadron.

No one seems to know for sure when the pavilion was built, but it was likely sometime between World War I and the Great Depression of the 1930s by Art and Nels Kelso. And it wasn’t just a single-story, frame dance hall. There once was a swimming pool, a bath house, observation deck, and even a boat pond!

We first remember the popular dance hall from the late 1940s, when Tony and Nancy Colacino bought the pavilion, according to their son, Dick, who now lives in California. By that time, the pool and pond were gone, but the pavilion was still a jumping place with lots of live entertainment – bands that came from all across the region, and eager patrons that would drive in from across the panhandle, Wyoming, and South Dakota.

A lot of soldiers came up from Fort Robinson,” remembers Colacino.

Nancy and Tony Colacino had operated the White Lunch café in downtown Chadron for several years after World War II. That business was located on the west side of First & Main Street, just south of where a Safeway store had once been located. In the late 1940's or early 1950's -- we don't know exactly when -- Colacinos opened up a supper club adjacent to their dance pavilion east of town.   That's when Louie Apa took over operation of what became "King Louie's White Lunch," which remained at that location until at least 1955.  We well remember Louie relocating his restaurant business to a new location on the north side of West 2nd Street for several years.  That's about the same time that H & R Block moved in to the old King Louie's location at Second and Main. 
An aerial photograph of the Colacino Supper Club, taken in 1953, is shown above.

In its day, the supper club was a one-of-a-kind in the area, and it was a very popular place. Among their regular customers was prominent banker C.F. Coffee and his wife. We’re told that sometimes the club would open early, just for them. In any event, Colacino Supper Club established its own large clientele – somewhat different customers than those who showed up on weekends for a good, sometimes even rowdy, time at the pavilion!

We’ve posted a few higher resolution photographs of the pavilion and supper club in our Early Chadron gallery. Our thanks to Dick Colacino and his daughter and son-in-law, Tina and Kevin Stopper, for giving us access to the aerial photograph of the old Colacino business.

After her mother died, young Mary Colacino operated the supper club with her father, and the business continued uninterrupted until the summer of 1965.

That’s when Colacinos sold the business to Harold and Norma Miller, who had previously owned the 120 Bar in downtown Chadron.  
The property was later owned by the Nixons. A 1985 news story in the Chadron Record suggested that the supper club was "torn apart."  However, Colacino's niece, Bunny Nitsch, advises us that the Supper Club was not torn down, but still exists as a home.

In later years, the pavilion was painted pink and was popularly-known as the Pink Panther. It continued to be a site for weekend dances. By the mid-1970s, Gil and Roger Nitsch owned the property, and they converted the venerable old hall into a pig barn.

Alas, in 1985, the roof collapsed and the structure was tore down. Colacinos was no more.

No more dancing, no more squealings;
we’re left with just nostalgic feelings.