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.