By Con Marshall
It all started with a slow dance at the old Pace Theatre, the large concrete block building in the 100 block of Main Street in Chadron.
Hardly anyone still alive remembers it as much more than a storage facility, but it opened in 1916 as a movie theatre and then it is said to have had a wonderful dance floor and was used for that after the movies moved to the present location of the Eagle Theater in 1924.
“It had a great floor and was a great place to dance until they started letting people roller skate there,” says the former Carol Stallings. “I was sitting with some friends when this tall, good-looking guy came and asked me to dance. That’s the way things worked in those days. If he decided he liked you, he asked you to dance again and after a few dances you might be going together.”
The suitor was Erwin Keim. He must have liked Carol, all right. He recalls that he had recently broken up with another girl friend whose name he has long forgotten and was “kind of looking around.” He spotted Carol sitting with a few other young ladies.
|Carol and Erwin Keim|
Before too long, they were getting married. He was 20, she was 18. Their wedding date was April 27, 1940—75 years ago this spring. Both of their fathers, Frank Keim and Manley Stallings, accompanied them to the Sheridan County Court House in Rushville, where they tied the knot.
They’re still married, happily living at 605 Maple Street in the home they purchased in 1955—60 years ago for $2.500.
Has any Chadron couple ever been married for a longer time period? (Perry and Alberta Moody had been married 73 years when he died in 1973.) They don’t know, but if they haven’t already broken the record, Erwin says they will.
“We plan to stick around for quite a few more years,” he said emphatically several times during the interview in their home.
“Well, it depends on what the good Lord has in store for us,” Carol notes. “But you can say we’ve had a happy marriage. Otherwise we wouldn’t still be here.”
One thing that makes them happy is that they’re still able to live in their home and take care of their basic needs without much help. This spring, a daughter made arrangements for Joe Rischling to do more of the mowing, but they’re not sure that’s necessary.
“We could have kept doing it,” says Carol, who operated the mower most of the time. “But since Joe was already doing some of it (areas they own outside their yard), it’s OK.”
The Keims have been workers. He notes that he had numerous jobs before going into the trucking business. She was involved in various Chadron restaurants for something like 40 years, maybe more.
Soon after they were married, the couple lived in northern Idaho, where he worked on the railroad and then on a military base, before they returned to western Nebraska after a couple of years.
“We then mostly worked for farmers and ranchers for about 10 years,” Erwin says. Some of their employers included Major Hale and John Augustine, both east of Chadron, the Koester Brothers, who raised potatoes in the Alliance area, and March’s dairy near Hot Springs.
Erwin also was a ditch rider for the Bureau of Reclamation on the Mirage Flats south of Hay Springs for six years before they settled in Chadron.
Over the years, he was employed at a Standard Station, the Chadron Milling Co. and the Chadron Tire Shop when it was located at 162 Chadron Ave., and then bought a truck.
Erwin spent approximately a decade during the 1950s and ‘60s at Chadron Tire when it was owned by Orrin “Pappy” Rish and his son, Dwain. It was a busy place, recapping tires besides selling new ones, doing front end alignments and repairing lots of flats.
Erwin says he got off to kind of a rocky start with his employers at the tire shop.
“One of them would tell me one thing and the other would tell me something else,” he recalls. “Finally, one day, I told them I couldn’t take orders from both of them and asked them “Who’s my boss?”
“They went in the office for a while and came back and told me I was the boss in the back shop. I could run it the way I wanted to. From then on we got along well."
Erwin notes that Terry Cunningham, who died this past January at age 85, was one of his primary helpers at the tire shop.
The trucking included picking up cream cans at every village and town along Highway 20 east of Chadron and taking them to Valentine after the Chicago and North Western Railroad ceased doing that. This was in the days when most farmers and ranchers milked at least a few cows, separated the cream and sold it. The proceeds were often used as “grocery money.”
The Keims’ second son, Jim, who lives in Norfolk, helped collect and haul the cream cans.
“We made the trip three times a week in the winters and five times a week in the summers,” Jim remembers. “It was a 12-hour round trip.”
After their four kids were in school, Carol joined the work force. She says her first job was helping Juanita McKnight at what she calls “the Refinery Lunch,” also called Sioux Skillet and located on West Highway 20. That launched a long career in the food service business.
She also “ran the soda fountain” at Saults Drug, later Myers Drug, for a while, and worked for George Grosh at the Chuck Wagon Restaurant for a time before managing Helen’s Café on West Highway 20 for 11 years after Grosh purchased it in 1972. She eventually purchased the café previously owned by Jack Elwood on West Second Street where Marie’s is now located and renamed it Carol’s Kitchen. She ran the café for about two and a half years before selling it in 1985 after receiving an offer she couldn’t refuse.
“If you’re going to be in the restaurant business you better be prepared to work a lot of hours,” Carol notes.
Jo Kominek, who had been married to the Keims’ oldest son, LeRoy, worked with Carol at Helen’s and Carol’s Kitchen for more than a decade. She says Carol was an excellent cook and manager and was good to her employees. Jo, who has been married to Jim Kominek since 1988 and is the office manager for their Circle J Glass business, checks on the Keims at their home on a daily basis.
Besides work, the Keims have had other interests. Erwin claims he can name six different locations where he bowled in Chadron over the years.
“At one time I bowled three or four times a week,” he states. When asked if he was a good bowler, he says, “pretty fair,”
Carol has been in charge of “the fine needle booth” at the Dawes County Fair “for years,” a friend notes. She still helps with the Food Basket distributions on Tuesdays.
Erwin was born Sept. 21, 1919 at Franklin, Neb., and Carol was born Dec. 29, 1921 at Wray, Colo.
The Stallings family moved to Chadron in 1929 so her father could sell Delco light plants to farmers and ranchers. The Keims came about a decade later.
While Erwin’s oldest brother, Alvin, another longtime Chadron resident, and his youngest sister, Kathryn, have passed away, his brothers Frankie of Chadron and David of Bridgeport and sister Anna Lee, who lives in Florida, are still doing well.
Carol is the youngest of four in her family and the only one still living.
The couple’s children are LeRoy, who worked at the power plant near Glenrock, Wyo., before retiring; Jim, who lives in Norfolk after a long career in the dairy products industry; Phyllis Mosely, who lives in Lakewood, Colo.; and Karen Rich of Spearfish.
“It makes you feel kind of old when your youngest child is nearly 70,” Erwin notes.
They have 10 grandchildren, 24 great-grandchildren and 15 great-great grands.
Carol says it seems as if the years have “flown by,” but adds they’ve enjoyed life “most of the time.”
Erwin says, “We’ve never had time to argue about anything. We never had a fight in our life. We were too busy for that.”