Thursday, December 19, 2013

Learning the meaning of friendship…in Chadron

Friendship comes in many forms, and it’s been a topic of philosophers and poets for centuries.

Two rather modern quotes are among our favorites.

Mark Twain once opined that "Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience:  this is the ideal life."

But we particularly like the pronouncement made by that sage of the ring, Muhammed Ali, who said, Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It's not something you learn in school. But if you haven't learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven't learned anything.”
Good buddies Lynn Bilyeu and Bob Zeman
In these modern migratory times, travel has become so much easier, and having life-long friends seems to have become increasingly rare.  But one friendship jumped out and caught our attention recently, when Con Marshall told us a story about two long-time Chadron residents who grew up in the 1930's, became school chums, and enjoyed a friendship that transcended several decades, doggedly surviving the unrelenting passage of time.
This is the rather remarkable story about Bob Zeman and Lynn Bilyeu, who became friends while attending East Ward Elementary School during the Great Depression.
Our first memories of Bob Zeman reach back to the late 1940’s, a few years after the Zeman family moved in to the house at 223 Ann Street.  We neighborhood kids would often see Bob visiting his parents, Joe and Ella.
Lynn Bilyeu first came onto our radar screen a few years later while attending a meeting of the "Pine Ridge Amateur Radio Club" at Lynn's home in the Henkens Heights neighborhood in about 1959 or 1960. A retired telegrapher and dispatcher with the Chicago and Northwestern Railway, Lynn was -- and continues to be -- an avid “ham” operator.  
The life-long friendship between Lynn Bilyeu and Bob Zeman is a fascinating story – and is told no better than in this article crafted by Con Marshall for the Chadron Record on March 28, 2012.  Our thanks to Con for allowing us to reprint it here.  We've also posted some additional photos in our Dawes County Journal Gallery.
Read Con Marshall's story:   An 80-year friendship

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Tale of a "Tiger" - CSC honors Jerry Bauman

When Jerry Bauman graduated from Chadron High School in 1964, few could have predicted the enormous accomplishments he would realize in later life -- and the litany of positive contributions that he and his wife, Cheryl (Hamilton) would give back to their communities over the years.
Good friend Con Marshall has shared with us a story he wrote this fall about Jerry and Cheryl Jo, and we're pleased to publish it here.  The story was spurred by the awarding of the Chadron State College Distinguished Alumni Award to Jerry in October.  As you read Con's story, you'll understand why Jerry was selected for this singular recognition.
We best remember "Tiger" Bauman from our high school years, when he served as a student manager for the Chadron High School basketball team.  Small in stature but determined to do a good job, we should've foreseen his commitment to getting good things done!  He grew in many ways.
I recall crossing paths with Jerry only once in adult life, when he and I were passing through the Tulsa airport in the early 1980's.  I must confess that I would never have recognized Jerry, since I'm certain that he was at least a foot taller than I had remembered him from high school!   He spotted me, we had a fun -- if brief -- conversation.  I believe he and Cheryl were living in Tulsa; Karen and I were living in nearby Jenks.  However, it was shortly thereafter that Karen and I departed Oklahoma and lost any prospect of forging a new relationship with an old high school friend.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Tea Room brought a bit of class to 1950's Chadron

by Larry Miller

When the November edition of the Golden Age Courier arrived last week, we immediately recognized the subject featured on the front:  Doell Tea Room.

Located at 376 Bordeaux Street (northeast corner of Fourth and Bordeaux), the Doell Tea Room was a large two-story home.  In the 1950's, the Northwestern Bell Telephone Office was situated across the street to the west.  The newer brick telephone office building reflected a revitalized and seemingly modern commercial activity.  The Doell home was more sedate, identified by a simple sign in the front yard announcing the Doell Tea Room.  Without the sign, it was another large and well-groomed house, but there was little else to distinguish it from other old and elegant homes in Chadron.

For those of us who were younger, the "Tea Room" sign was a bit of a puzzlement.  "What exactly is a tea room" I'm sure many of us wondered.  Alas, some of us would have to wait half a century to find out.

And as it happens, the Doell Tea Room was quite special. 

Its story was told by two of the Doell daughters, Carol and Ann.  Although the youngest of the three Doell girls, Ann has been able to provide considerable information about the business, which seems today something of an anachronism.

A 1950 wedding at Doell Tea Room in Chadron 
Carl and Emma Doell came to Chadron from eastern Nebraska.  The name "Doell" had long been associated with a grocery store in Norfolk operated by Doell relatives.  Daughter Ann said the move to Chadron came after Carl and Emma lost their small grocery store in Fremont during the Great Depression.  

Ann told us that her mother was a very outgoing person, and it wasn't long after arriving in Chadron that Emma -- in the 1940's -- opened a cafe on the east side of Second and Main, just a few doors north of the current post office.  Old-timers will remember it as being adjacent to the Newsy Nook on the south and O'Neill Photo on the north.

Emma Doell ran the Doell Tea Room
"Mom's sister and husband, Ann and Mark Patterson, were already living in Chadron with their son, Merrill," wrote Ann.  "I believe it was like a working man's cafe with a long counter only and daily specials.  Not sure how long she was at this location."

Some will remember the "Sandwich Shop" in this vicinity during the 1950s, and that may very well have been the same business once operated by Emma Doell.

"They were renting a small house from Ann and Mark on Maple St., and then they bought the big house on Bordeaux."

That larger house at 4th and Bordeaux was known as the "Richert" house, and Doells bought it from Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jolly in 1946. "Doell Tea Room" would host wedding receptions, sorority and fraternity dinners, bridge parties, monthly gatherings of the Business and Professional Women, and once in a while even poker parties!  Ann noted that "people would call and set a date with information on the number of people and then pick a menu."  She and her younger brother, Bob, were too young to remember a lot about the Tea Room, "but I do remember they had us out of the way in the kitchen with coloring books and story time on the radio," she said, recounting programs like Amos and Andy, Jack Benny, Gene Autry, the Lone Ranger, and others.

"Mom worked hard making all the dinners from scratch, and it was always good.  The kitchen always smelled good!  Her clover leaf rolls and pies were the best!  The steaks were grilled on the big wood stove in the kitchen.  The iron top would get sooooo hot!  We would all get to seating and would open doors and windows, no matter the weather."

"The hard times for her were when more people came than expected and she was expected to make things 'stretch.'  Not like now days with freezers and extra to pull things together."

"I asked mom once 'why the name Tea Room?'   She just say 'Why not?'   I guess then it was a common name, while now it would conjure up a women's club, cucumber sandwiches and such."

Installation of officers for the Chadron Business
and Professional Women (BPW)  -  April 1954
Ann's older sister, Carol Doell Brookins recalls that they had a big mangle machine in the kitchen, used for pressing the table cloths and napkins.  "Mom didn't let me do the table cloths, but I did get to do the napkins while I was studying school books."

She remembered, too, that the kitchen and dining room were connected with a swinging door.  The living room was also large and had a piano, which came in handy for the various programs.  The front hal, she said, had all the extra folding chairs, tables and coat racks.

"Back then," Carol recalled, "the house had only one bathroom.  Unfortunately for many, it was upstairs, which made it a real trek for bad knees."  

She noted that most of the gatherings were of women who played bridge and usually ate a salad and desert, or warm creamed chicken over home-made biscuits with fruit and a cookie.

"The wedding receptions were great!  Emma always made the mints in their colors, with mixed nuts, coffee and tea or punch.  They sometimes had champagne," said Carol.

Gov. Val Peterson (1947-53)
"One of the parties was for then Nebraska Governor Val Peterson.  A bunch of business and professional men met for a meeting.  I just heard a lot of talking and laughing.  When my sister Margery and I would enter the room, it would get quiet, and when we left they would maybe finish a joke.  They smoked big fat cigars and told jokes -- no liquor!  They had big thick steaks, baked potatoes, home-made pie and ice cream.  They were on happy bunch of men!"

"A couple of weeks later, my sister and I received a very nice letter from the Governor thanking us for everything.  I saw him a few years later and asked him about the dinner.  He said he remembered the steaks and the young girls who served the dinner."

The older Doell sisters, Carol and Margery, graduated from Chadron Prep in the 1950s.  Ann graduated from Chadron High School in 1962, and Bob graduated from CHS in 1963.  Emma Doell died in 1998.   The children are scattered across the country; Carol lives in Iowa, Margery in Virginia, Ann is in New Mexico, and Bob lives in Oregon. 

During the 1950's, the Doell Tea Room was an special meeting place for numerous organizations.  Daughter Carol says she doesn't remember exactly when or why the Tea Room closed its doors, but people continued to make requests for dinner tools, pies, and mints. 

"People really were wanting her to stay open."

Friday, October 4, 2013

Finishing First: memories of Joe American Horse

Many visitors to this website will likely remember Joe American Horse, the outstanding track star who ran for Gordon High School back in the 1950's. He was often seen leading the pack in distance races at Chadron State College and other track venues around northwest Nebraska.  

This photograph shows Joe winning the Mile Run in the Nebraska High School State Track Meet in Lincoln in 1956 -- his third straight year of winning the event.  His winning time was 4:28.1, fast enough to leave his nearest rival nearly 50 yards behind, setting a Nebraska Class "B" record.  Joe was inducted into the Nebraska High School Hall of Fame in 1990, the only Native American so honored thus far.  

Thanks to Joe American Horse, Con Marshall, and the good folks at Chadron State College for sharing this photograph from a Gordon High School yearbook.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Ex-Chadronite reflects on broadcasting career


Charley Rook says he was “very, very lucky” during his career as a radio and television news director and anchorman.  But he also credits his upbringing in Chadron with helping him make the most of the opportunities that were afforded to him.
                Rook is a 1954 graduate of Chadron Prep.  He was back “home” during Fur Trade Days in July, renewing acquaintances with friends and also taking stock of the town that he said he’s come to appreciate more and more while working and living in much larger cities.
                “A lot can be said for growing up in a place like Chadron,” Rook said while sipping on iced tea at the Country Kitchen. “This is a place where God and Country are important, where honesty and fairness are appreciated and where a strong work ethic is learned and carried out.  I tried to live by those values because I really never knew any other way.”
                Charley and his brother Johnny were born in Ohio, but their family moved to Chadron when they were in junior high. Their father, Gordon, was a Chadron native who was a diesel locomotive-electrician for the Chicago and North Western Railroad.  Their mother, Della, was a native of Kentucky. Johnny graduated from Prep in 1955, one year after Charley.
                Charley notes that he wasn’t a good enough basketball player to get much playing time on any of the three Class C state championship teams that Archie Conn coached during the 1950s, but he liked football and believes he received all-Northwest Nebraska Conference honors as an end on the Junior Eagles’ football team his senior year. 
                Both brothers made it big in broadcasting—Johnny in radio while Charley switched to television and was an anchorman at major stations in both Chicago and Los Angeles before spending 20 years at a station in Spokane-Coeur d' Alene, where he is now retired.
Early in their careers, both worked at KOBH Radio in Hot Springs where they “did about everything.”  While Charley made his mark as a radio and TV news anchor, Johnny had a knack for picking hot tunes before they were hits and he became a renowned radio programmer and station consultant.  Wikipedia has three pages on Johnny’s career. He lives in Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho, only about 20 miles from Spokane. (See separate story).
                Charley has no regrets about how things turned out for him, and while he was being  interviewed, mentioned two things that he feels helped put him on the  road to success.
                One, he said, was at the District 6 Declamatory and One-Act Play Contest that Chadron State College hosted when he was a junior at Chadron Prep.  The competition included radio newscasting and Charley won first place, sparking his interest in broadcasting and boosting his confidence. 
                The second was being able to work for his uncle Claude (Bud) Rook, the founder and owner of ABC Electric in Chadron during the summers and at other times when an extra helper was needed.
                “I’m sure there are some people in Chadron who remember him,” Charley said. “He was a good mentor for me. He was a taskmaster who had that work ethic which I so much admire to this day. Bud also believed if you worked harder than the competition  you could succeed in America, the greatest country the world has ever seen.
“Quite a bit of this rubbed off on me and I still believe it, even though things about this country have really changed over the years and in my estimation, not always for the better.  The nanny state and political correctness come to mind."
                Charley said some of “Uncle Bud’s training” helped him excel while he spent four years in the Navy immediately after graduating from Prep.  First of all, because of his experience as an electrician in the ABC Electric shop, Charley became a shipboard electrician on destroyer escorts in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. By the time he was discharged, he had an E-6 rating, something few sailors accomplish during a four-year hitch.
                “I made E-6 because I studied hard for the tests that we took.  I was told that if I stayed in the Navy I could probably become an officer. It was tempting, but I decided if I could do well in the Navy, I could probably also do well in the outside world so I got out.”
                After his discharge, Charley enrolled at Chadron State College in the fall of 1958, but stayed just one semester and part of the spring term. Johnny was working at KOBH and the Hot Springs station needed a weekend announcer.  Charley took the job and was soon hooked on radio broadcasting.
                Since the name Johnny Rook was already well-known to KOBH listeners when Charley went to work there, it was decided he should use a different last name.  Thus during the rest of his career—nearly 50 years—he was Charles Rowe to his listeners and viewers.   
                After only a few months at KOBH, he accepted a radio position  in Cheyenne. He said he definitely got lots of experience there.  He put the station on the air in the mornings, was often still there to give the noon news and then spent the afternoons selling spots, or ads.
                His stint in Cheyenne was cut short when some "high rollers" from San Francisco hired him to help build and set up programming for four new Northwest radio stations in Boise, Idaho, and Salem, Eugene and Medford, Ore.

                His next stop, still in the early-1960s, was at KYMN, a 50,000-watt station in Portland, Ore., where he was strictly a newsman. He was there a couple of years and enjoyed his work but realized television people were making more money.
                    Rook took a chance and in 1966 accepted a newscaster job at a tiny TV station in Coos Bay, Ore.  Within six months, he was promoted to the company's flagship station in Eugene as news director and anchor.
                Then just a few months later in 1967, he received a big break in his career.  He was offered a news anchor and capitol correspondent position at KXTV in Sacramento. That was shortly after Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California. 

“It was my pleasure to interview him three times in the two years I was at that station,” Charlie said. “He was great to interview and I was one of his admirers long before he became president.”
                Charley said he was not planning to leave Sacramento, but he went to Chicago in 1969 to visit his brother and his mother, who had moved with Johnny to the Windy City.
                “By then, Johnny was programming WLS Radio, a top Chicago station, and really making a name for himself.  While I was there, he lined up an interview for me with WLS-TV, which was owned by ABC. They offered me the job of anchoring their first-ever weekend newscast and filling in for their weekday anchors.  The pay was very good, so I left Sacramento and moved to Chicago.”
                Charley remained at WLS-TV for four years.  During two of those years, he also wrote and delivered three newscasts a day for the ABC radio network nationwide.
                One of his most memorable experiences in Chicago was working in the same office area as Paul Harvey, one of the nation’s preeminent newscasters for nearly five decades.
                “He would sometimes walk by my glass door, see me inside, open it and say ‘Hi Charles’ as he was leaving from work. 
“Sometimes, I’d go down the hall and watch him do his newscasts. He had the darnedest system. He had papers scattered all over his desk and would randomly pick one up and read it with that great voice of his. I never could figure out how he decided which story to use next.  It never seemed that he had the stories in any kind of an order, but it worked for him.”
                Charley said he was “never enamored” with Chicago, calling it “a corrupt city that’s still that way.” So when his contract ended he moved to KTTV, a major independent station in Los Angeles, and soon became its sole news anchor. KTTV is now owned by FOX.
                “I was there for eight years and had a great time,” he said. “I guess this was the ‘biggest job’ I ever had when it came to audience size.  But after a while, I began dreaming about having my own radio station, so in 1980 I moved again.  While in LA, I worked hard to obtain a permit to put a new FM station on the air in Lincoln City/Newport, Ore., right on the coast.
                “Building and managing the station was probably the most fun thing I have ever done and we put a superior product on the air. We won more than a dozen Associated Press statewide awards and a couple of national awards for our news coverage.  But I realized while I was having great fun, I wasn't making much money.   So I sold it and began looking for a television news position in the Northwest.”
                Charley didn’t get much time off after selling the station.  Within a few weeks he was hired as an anchor at KREM-TV in Spokane, Wash., and spent the last 20 years of his career there.
                “Our ratings were top notch and I enjoyed the staff at the station, even though I had a constant battle with some of the activist-liberals in the newsroom to make sure we were telling both sides of the story. Maybe that's why the 5 p.m. news at KREM, which I co-anchored for the full 20-years, was constantly number one. I finally retired when I reached 72 and that was five years ago.
                “I had a good career and I don’t have any complaints. I always enjoyed preparing myself for the job on a daily basis and then getting it done.” he added.
                He remains in Spokane after retiring and calls himself “a neighborhood volunteer" who is heavy into the Tea Party, Heritage Foundation and the National Rifle Association.
                He said he’s dismayed that the national media is so biased to the left and he tries to do what he can to maintain and promote the conservative viewpoint.
                Along the same lines, he said he greatly enjoyed his visit to Chadron and the chance to meet up with a number of his high school friends again.  Most of them, he noted, seem to be holding on to what he describes as “this country’s traditional values of honesty and hard work.”

(Thanks to good friend Con Marshall for sharing this story, originally written for the Chadron  Record)

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Chadron man remembered as a "Real Character"

(NOTE:  It was 17 years ago this week that Ed Davenport died as the result of a highway accident near our hometown of Chadron, Nebraska.  Ed was a neighbor.  He was a colleague.  He was a friend.  Jim Holland wrote the following piece for the Chadron Record on July 18, 1996.  It does a good job describing this "real character."  Thanks to Ron Wineteer, Editor of the Golden Age Courier, for sharing it with us. -- Larry Miller, Black Hills Journal)

by Jim Holland

Ed Davenport is known by friends and associates as a radio and television pioneer, an antique collector, historian, musician and comedian.  He is remembered mostly as “a real character.”

"Cuzzin Ed" Davenport owned Antique Acres
Davenport , 70, died of injuries received in a morning highway accident east of Chadron.

Davenport was actually several characters during his five decades on radio, television and stage.  He was “on stage 24 hours a day” said Don Huls, Dawes County Extension Agent, and one of several who have played “straight man” to Davenport’s trademark “Cuzzin Ed”.  “He was always developing different characters in his imagination,” said Huls.

From that imagination came a plethora of Cuzzin Ed’s ersatz kin, including, “Uncle Hiram”, “Aunt Matilda”, “Aunt Bertha”, “Cousin Elmo”, “Aunt Ralph (of San Francisco)”, and a one-sided perpetual love interest named “Esmeralda Poofdangle.”
“He was one-of-a-kind,“ said Huls.  “He enjoyed people.  He wanted people to laugh with, and at him.  He had a natural, easy humor.”
An early interest in all things mechanical and electrical led Davenport into a career in communications.  He made his first radio appearance on station KOBH, later KOTA in Rapid City in 1939, playing piano accompaniment while his father, George, played and talked about the violin he built as a hobby.
Davenport was inducted into the U.S. Army in 1945, serving first as a military policeman, then as battalion radio repairman.  After his discharge in 1947, he enrolled in the Electronics Radio and Television Institute in Omaha, obtaining his Federal Communications Commission first class radio telephone license that fall.
In 1948, he owned Davenport Radio and TV service on Chapin Street in Chadron.  He began his on-air radio career as an engineer-announcer with KCOW in Alliance in 1949.  “Cuzzin Ed” made his radio debut as a humorous sidekick to announcers Harley Hanson, Gene Taylor, Verne Sheppard and Art jones on “The Country Store” on KOTA in 1954.
He and KOTA moved into the television era in 1955.  Davenport helped engineer a new transmitter and tower for the first TV broadcasts in western South Dakota.  Davenport was seriously injured in 1957, falling 17 feet when a Rapid City tower, being dismantled for a new radio station in Pierre, S.D., collapsed.  After months of recuperation from a broken back and hip, Davenport moved to Pierre to help the new station, KCCR, begin broadcasting.
He sold his interest in that station and returned to Chadron in 1960.  Later that year he was chief engineer for KDUH TV in Hay Springs.
In 1961, he started Antique Acres, a museum featuring vintage automobiles and several collections.  “He loved to hit all the garage sales,” said Huls.  “On a Saturday he could make it to 10 sales before 10 in the morning.  He was always looking for the hot buy.  He could see a little bit of value in just about anything.”
He was chief engineer for Chadron’s KCSR radio station in 1970.  Pat Benton, a then-KCSR colleague who also played straight man to “Cuzzin Ed” remembers his partner’s homespun sense of humor.  “It was real cornball humor.  He was Hee-Haw before there was Hee-Haw,” said Benton.  “He was local flavor, par de luxe,”  The ‘Cuzzin Ed Show” was also carried on stations in Torrington and Valentine.  “Even with his cornball style, he drew a sophisticated audience,” Benton said.  “We could barely be picked up in Rapid City, but I can remember hearing about doctors up there craning their ears trying to listen to the show.”
Benton respected Davenport’s engineering know-how in those early days.  “He was such a wiz at keeping the station going with tubes and tape, alligator clips and paper clips.”  Although semi-retired in his later years, Davenport continued his engineering duties at KCSR until his death.  He helped install a new broadcast control room at the station, said owner Dennis Brown.
Raymond Eaton, who grew up with Davenport, recalled Davenport’s natural musical ability.  “He could play just about anything, but he was really good at the piano.  We could name any tune, and he could play it.  He played by ear.  I doubt if he could even read music.”
Belle Lecher, of the Dawes County Historical Society, praised Davenport’s dedication to the Society.  “His engineering expertise and ability to utilize and improvise often made the difference between spending funds we did not have to spend,” said Lecher.  “I still recall the time we needed to move the old Chadron Record linotype machine (which weighed a ton) from the original museum to the Card Farm addition.  With a set of blocks and rollers, he managed to relocate the machine practically single-handed in a matter of minutes.  Davenport donated the Alpha Schoolhouse, a Fordson Tractor, a wagon from the Chadron Brickyard and countless smaller items to the Museum,” said Lecher.  He also provided his own column of witticisms, “Cuzzin Ed’s Almanac” for the senior publication, Golden Age Courier.
He helped form the Northwest Vintage Car Club and was active in the Chadron Prep Alumni and the Veterans Honor Guard of Chadron.  He served as Master of Ceremonies for a couple of Chadron’s annual Ugly Pickup Contests.  Former Chadron Record Publisher, Les Mann, founded the contest in 1987.  Mann heard reports that Davenport was at the wheel of a well-used 1964 Ford pickup at the time of his fatal accident.  “He was an ugly pickup owner to the end,” said Mann. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cardinal hoopsters from 1942

There's nothing quite as fun as old photographs.  They spur lots of memories and sometimes encourage us to reflect on the "good old days."  This photo, however, was taken more than 70 years ago during a time that was not so wonderful -- shortly after the outbreak of World War II. The only person we've identified is the coach at the far left -- E. L. McEwing.  We think this may be the Chadron High School "Cardinals" varsity basketball team, but we're not certain.  It could be the Junior Varsity.  Some of these folks are no longer with us, but we suspect there are still a few people around who can identify them.  Thanks to Richard McEwing for sharing this photo.  You'll find a higher resolution image of this photo in our Chadron Schools gallery.  And learn more about E. L. McEwing and other teachers and administrators in our Chadron Teachers gallery.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Great Race: Still running after all these years!

While it may have started as something of a novelty, the "Chadron to Chicago Horse Race" spurred lots of interest across the region 120 years ago this month.

"Billy the Bear" Iaeger and Dawes County Sheriff James Dahlman were among the folks who finally put together something of a real race. Seems that newspaperman John Maher had floated the myth of such a race, but thanks to some local determination, it really came about.

The horse race story still has legs. We enjoyed a rather lengthy piece put together by David Hendee of the Omaha World-Herald, and you can find it, replete with photos and maps, by clicking on Chadron-to-Chicago Race.

Hendee worked with Belle Lecher and others of the Dawes County Historical Society in putting this feature story together.  It was interesting to connect Billy Iaeger with Chadron Fire Chief J.O. Hartzell. Hartzell is attributed with firing the pistol that started the 13-day race across the plains.  

The names Hartzell and Iaeger were prominent, too, in the creation of a 1916 movie about Calamity Jane and Wild Bill Hickok.  Made in Dawes County, it never won an academy award, but it's fun to learn about the entrepreneurial and promotional activities of some of the old timers!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bataan Death March survivor Tom McDill honored

Although it occurred nearly 70 years after the fact, a former Dawes County resident was honored this spring for his participation in World War II.  

Tom McDill of Custer, S.D., was presented 10 military awards during ceremonies in Custer on earlier this spring.

With McDill, now 92, from left, are Lois Putnam of Oelrichs, who, like McDill, was a member of the Class of 1939 at Chadron Prep; McDill’s wife, Ilona; and Jan Adams of Chadron, who represented Chadron Prep at the ceremonies. McDill was missing in action for 3.5 years after being captured by the Japanese in the Philippines in 1942. He survived the Bataan Death March and then worked more than three years in a Japanese copper mine before the war ended. 

McDill grew up on a ranch in the Whitney area and had raised horses much of his life. (Photo and information courtesy of Con Marshall)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chadron native covers the globe…

In an age when "reality" television shows tend to anesthetize a fair percentage of the American population and dumb down our sense of what constitutes a rich and meaningful life, it's gratifying to read about someone who not only makes the most of what they have, but they also make a difference in our world.

What a joy to read about Chadron native Mark Grantham,  shown at right, who's been busy covering a lot of ground and doing a lot of interesting and good things.

Anyone who's lived in Dawes County over the past century or so is familiar with the Grantham name.  Mark  is one of the many Grantham offspring who've done well.   And his story is worth reading. 

Another busy guy, Con Marshall, occasionally offers us a few of his many feature stories -- and we found this one particularly fascinating.

Thank you, Con, for generously sharing this story:

(click title to read the story)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The big "Spud" of 1918

It was the fall of 1918 and Armistice Day was just around the corner, finally bringing an end to The Great War.  Out here in Dawes  County, Frank Hamaker had just harvested a record crop of potatoes.  There was so much interest in the "Great Spud" that a bushel basket full (that would be one potato) was sent to the governor.  Readers of the October 20th edition of  Omaha Daily Sun learned about it from this photograph and caption.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Blue Rock Cave - Perhaps it's still hidden in the hills…

Click on the photo to see a larger
 version of Blue Rock Cave and 
explorers Denton & Miller 
If you can't grow up on a farm or ranch, perhaps the next best thing is seeing the world through the eyes of a small town kid.

One of the many benefits of communities like Crawford, Chadron, Rushville, and other similarly-sized towns is that you're never very far from the great outdoors.

Today, of course, the thought of traipsing through the hills south of Chadron to places like  "Paradise Valley," "King's Chair," "Blue Rock Cave," and "Sacrifice Cave" has lost a bit of its luster.  First, I'm not sure my old feet could hold up -- and even if they did, what would I do about snakes or poison ivy?

Such thoughts found no place in my mind back in the 1940s and '50s.  Playing soldier or hide-n-seek was the highlight of a summer day -- maybe even a step above going swimming. (Of course, we "city" kids had to swim under the scrutiny of lifeguards -- unlike our country brethren who could find a bit of solitude from adults at a country swimming hole.)

These thoughts came racing back today as I foraged through a box of pictures that my sister sent to me…….and I stumbled upon the one shown here.

Blue Rock Cave (I have no idea if that was its real name or just one that we embraced) was one of those special locations.  I remember the cave vividly, but just who took the photo has joined the clutter of other pleasant youthful memories that are unencumbered by details -- things like specific names and dates.  Nonetheless, the photo  reminded me of the wonderful times of a different era.  That's Lawrence Denton atop the cave, and wannabe National Geographic explorer Larry Miller at the entrance to the cavern.

They say you can't go home again, but in the 1980's, my teenaged son and I trekked all the way from Oklahoma for a visit to Chadron.  It included a hike to the hills of my youth -- and I was giddy at the thought of sharing some of my special places with him.  King's Chair was still sitting regally in its proper place -- as was Paradise Valley.  But after what seemed an eternity of hiking and looking, we gave up trying to find Blue Rock Cave.

Maybe you can't go home again -- at least not without a good map…..or GPS.

Monday, February 4, 2013

No doubt about it, 2012 was a dry year

By Con Marshall

Much of the upper plains is very dry
At least two Dawes County rain gauges measured less than eight inches of precipitation during 2012, making it the second driest year on record.

Del and Aletta Hussey, who live along Chadron Creek about eight miles south of Chadron, said they measured 7.94 inches of precipitation during the past year.  Eldon and Janett Wohlers, who ranch northwest of Crawford, said their gauge showed only 7.50 inches during the year.

According to a U.S. Weather Service report issued in 2007, the driest year on record for Chadron was 2002 with only 5.76 inches of precipitation.  Second on the list was 2006, when only 8.45 inches were received.

The Weather Service said the driest year prior to those years dating back to 1893 was 1963, when 10.55 was reported.

The Husseys measured 14.99 inches in 2006, but they recorded just 11.12 the following year.

Both the Husseys and the Wohlerses said they measured nearly 25 inches in 2011, making it one of the wettest years in history.  However, the spigot began shutting off about midway through 2011, meaning Dawes County and much of the surrounding area is now in its 19th month of severe droughty conditions.

The Husseys also recorded 19.23 inches in 2009 and 20.20 in 2011, giving area producers three outstanding years in a row (except in areas where hail was a part of the precipitation).  They also measured 19.74 inches in 2005.

Old-timers as well as historians remember the 1930s for being especially dry. Weather Service data shows that less than 12 inches were received in Chadron in 1931, 1932, 1934 and 1937.

According to the Weather Service, 1915 is the wettest year on record for Chadron. A total of 31.86 inches fell that year. Next on the list is 1923, when the total was 26.47.  Another exceptionally wet year was 1927, when 25.89 was measured.

Other years when Chadron apparently received more than 20 inches were 1920, 1930, 1982, 1925, 1922, 1942, 1921 and 1947.

Eldon Wohlers said the Squaw Mound east of Crawford where he was living at the time received approximately 36 inches in both 1966 and 1967.

Precipitation amounts according to Del and Aletta Hussey