Friday, December 3, 2010

The "specialties" of Sid Umshler

When the Nebraska Cornhuskers and the Oklahoma Sooners do battle tonight at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, it’ll be the culmination of a football rivalry dating back more than 75 years.  We well remember the ‘50s, when the two teams were in the Big Eight and the rivalry was palpable.  Somehow, since formation of the Big 12 Conference, that rivalry hasn’t seemed quite as intense – perhaps a harbinger of things to come for the ailing conference.  Nonetheless, the game tonight will determine the conference championship, and it’s sure to be a humdinger.

Joining the millions of avid football fans nestled in front of their TV sets to watch the big game will be Chadron native Skip “Sid” Umshler.  A 1964 graduate of Chadron High School, he’s been retired from a successful sales job in Omaha since 2001.  He and his wife Bev, who is retired from a long career with the telephone company, decided to pull up stakes and move into a country home in Missouri – not far from Branson.

While Skip’s passion for NU football remains unbridled, he is anything but your typical armchair enthusiast of things Husker.

Skip and Bev Umshler in the "Husker Room."
In late November, we had the good fortune of visiting Skip and Bev at their home just outside of Mount Vernon, Missouri.  Skip and I chatted a bit about old times – recapturing some of the memories we shared as teammates on the 1961 Chadron High Cardinal basketball team, which won the Class “B” State Championship under the tutelage of Verne Lewellen.  If our nostalgic discussion seemed to take place in something of a time warp – especially for our very understanding wives – what happened next seemed like an episode from the Twilight Zone.

Skip and Bev were giving us a tour of their home, when we began navigating our way upstairs.  Then, it was as if Rod Serling was transporting us from Mount Vernon, Missouri to………NEBRASKA!

Upstairs, from ceiling to floor along all the walls of a spacious room dubbed the “Husker Room,” sports memorabilia abounds – most of it celebrating Nebraska Cornhusker football.  Photographs, posters, shirts, caps – all of it exquisitely framed and professionally displayed.  Neon signs.  Jerseys.  All forms of memorabilia.  If you simply woke up here, you might think you’d dozed while on a tour of a trophy room at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln.

Since time was limited, the fascinating tour was cut short, and we were able to enjoy only a brief summary of key items.  There’s lots of stuff from and about Jerry Tagge, the All-American Husker quarterback who was field marshal in the Big Red’s 35-31 win over the Oklahoma Sooners in a 1971 game considered to be college football’s “Game of the Century.”  Tagge and Umshler later became good friends in Omaha, further inspiring Skip to expand his memorabilia collection.  Umshler also got acquainted with NU athletic equipment manager Mel Worster.  Autographed items from coaches and players abound.  And there’s more than just Nebraska mementos.  Many dozens of items have come from players and coaches he’s met and befriended – not just in Nebraska, but Iowa, Missouri, and elsewhere. 

Alas, we should’ve been snapping photos and taking notes – so much to see and experience, and so little time!  Skip and Bev have invited us back, and I suspect we’ll be on their doorstep one day soon, eager to more leisurely explore and examine the trove of Cornhusker treasures that grace this special room.  Each and every item has a story.    It’s a stunning display.

Cardinal teammates Umshler and Miller -- reunited.
One wonders how long it’s taken Skip to collect these items – all tastefully exhibited.  He notes that he’s been gathering the collection since the mid-1990’s.

While he disavows patience, it clearly has taken much time and effort to amass this collection.  But it’s not the only hobby that Skip has undertaken.

In 1976, while traversing roadways across Nebraska, Iowa, the Dakotas and surrounding states as a sales rep – first for a hobby craft company and later for a smokeless tobacco firm – he bought a metal detector and took up coin-hunting.  Within a couple of years, he had found some 8,875 coins, more than 1,300 of them silver.  Of course that doesn’t include class rings, dog tags, and numerous sterling silver religious medals.  His collection is now safely ensconced in an Omaha safety deposit box.

In 1979, Umshler authored an article for Western-Eastern Treasures, a leading “how-to” magazine for metal detectionists.

“My only regret,” he wrote in the October issue, “is that I didn’t get into this ten years earlier!  I’ve had countless hours of enjoyment and know if I live to be 90, I’ll be out there huntin’ somewhere – though by then I may have to talk a grandson into doing my digging for me!”

Skip Umshler at work searching for 
coins in the town square at Tecumseh,
Nebraska in October of 1980
Skip shared with us a letter from a Scottsbluff woman, whose high school class ring had been lost many years earlier.  Skip found it while foraging for coins on the town square in Ord, Nebraska.  The lady wrote a touching letter of thanks to Skip – noting that her husband had recently died after their house burned down, destroying everything they owned. 

“Getting back my ring is something real special,” she wrote.

“Special” seems to fit Umshler well.

The oldest of three children born to Warren and Jen Umshler, Skip was a talented all-around athlete in Chadron during the late 1950’s and early ‘60’s.  He was only a freshman when he suited up for the varsity at Chadron High in 1961, when they won the state “B” basketball tournament.   Later that same year, he played first base on the outstanding Chadron Midgets squad that won a berth in the National Teeners Baseball World Series in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

Many Dawes County old-timers will remember Skip’s dad, Warren, as a long-time employee for the State Highway Department and an ex-Marine who won the Silver Star during World War Two. He was good friends with another WWII hero from Chadron, Warren Beamish.  The senior Umshler became something of a fixture with the American Legion Color Guard that supported events around Chadron for decades.  He also refereed basketball games for several years.  Skip’s mother, Jen, was Clerk of the District Court for many years and still lives in Chadron.  In addition to Skip, the Umshlers had two daughters, Sherry and Cam.

Following high school, like so many youngsters, Skip struggled a bit in finding out what he wanted to do with his life.   He was soon to discover that “having a good time” wasn’t all that good.  Those years might euphemistically be called “colorful,” but they were difficult.

He married Beverly Urwin – who also has roots and relatives in Chadron.  Her sister Marilyn and brothers John and Bob still live in the Chadron area.  Another sister, Karolyn, lives in Tennessee.  The marriage proved a positive step, especially when they retreated to Omaha and pursued new careers.  

Bev landed a job with Northwestern Bell Telephone Company – later Qwest – from which she retired more than 30 years later.  Skip’s affable personality proved a real asset for sales work, and he found the work both enjoyable and profitable. 

While the “collector” side of Skip Umshler has shown brightly through his coin collection and Husker memorabilia, there’s yet another “special” talent he possesses – poetry.  While he dismisses the thought that he’s really a poet, he concedes that his mother’s fondness for two of his poems enticed him to have them framed. Click on the image at right to see one of these poems. Read the other one here. Both were penned not long after Skip graduated from Chadron High, and we think his work was exceptional.  

Along the way, Skip and Bev raised two girls, Kim and Jodee, who still live in Omaha.  There are three grandchildren:   15-year-old granddaughter Hunter; 11-year-old grandson Tai; and 9-year-old granddaughter Sydney.

Skip waxes enthusiastic as he talks about grandson Tai, who’s already a collector of sorts – not coins and memorabilia, but trophies!  At his ripe young age, he’s already collected a wide array of BMX racing trophies for his prowess in a bicycle sport that is gaining wide popularity.

We figure it’ll be no time at all before some of Tai’s accomplishments earn him a place in the Umshler “Husker Room”!