Monday, July 20, 2020

Henry's Bus

(Editor's noteMany thanks to Chadron native Larry Smith, a 1954 graduate of Chadron High School, for sharing the following story – a fun step back into time!)
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by Larry Smith
I attended Chadron schools K-12 in the 1940s-1954.  One memory of the time involves the long time school superintendent, Henry Schroeder.
H. A. Schroeder, Superintendent
Chadron Public Schools 1947-67
Henry was a huge man, well over six feet tall and tipping the scales well past 250 pounds, but he was also a very jovial and kind man who was generally well liked by students, faculty and the community.
He would come to watch football practice.  No one could kick a football higher and farther than Henry. We used to joke that when he kicked the ball it came down with frost on it.
When I started high school we didn’t have school buses that delivered students to school.  We did have a school bus that was basically an activity bus for transporting teams to out of town games or the band to out of town parades.  That bus was a 1947 Ford bus with a small V-8 engine.

Henry always drove the school bus, wherever it went.  How many school districts could ever claim the superintendent drove the activity bus?  The old bus was painted Cardinal red with black lettering on the sides that read Chadron High School.
It labored to climb any hill.  Driving south with a full bus of football players to a game in Hemingford I remember Henry telling us all to blow towards the windshield to help get the bus up the hill to the table south of the state park.
The old red bus was noisy to ride in and on cold days very underheated.  You could see  your breath on some trips…inside the bus.
In the summer of 1953 the school board purchased a used Greyhound bus to be used as the activity bus. Wow, was that a jump in style and comfort.
It was a thing of pride and joy for Henry.  And, of course, he was the only designated driver.
Henry had a daughter in high school, also in the band.  There is a story, for which I can’t verify since I was not a participant, that his daughter, Susan, talked Henry into taking the new bus and the band to the drive in theater on a dollar a carload night.  The band members all breaking out folding chairs to watch the movie on an August evening.
My most vivid memory of the new, luxury bus was the first trip with the football team to Gering, the first out of town excursion for a team and the bus.  It was a very comfortable ride. We rode to Gering, and, alas, lost the game.  
On the way home, south of Alliance in the sand hills, the bus suddenly lost power.  Henry pulled to the shoulder and got out with the coaches to inspect the engine.  It was burned up. Apparently the oil drain plug had not been tight, and the engine lost all the oil.
It was a rainy night. The whole team got off and pushed the bus up the highway a few  yards to a wider turnoff on the side.  Someone flagged down a passing semi truck with a flat bed trailer loaded with cement blocks.  The whole team climbed on top of the load, in the rain, and rode into Alliance where we were dropped off downtown at a hotel. There, parents were called, and a convoy of parents in cars came to rescue us.
My wife remembers a trip when Henry was driving the band to a parade, as she remembers, in Sidney. The bus began running poorly, so in some town along the way Henry pulled the bus off to get some mechanical help.  Ward Rounds, the beloved long time band director, got the whole band off the bus, and they performed an impromptu parade while the bus was being repaired.
I am sure other ex Cardinal students have memories of Henry and his bus. 



Two views of the used Greyhound "pusher" bus in different years.  Above in about 1953 – below in 1958 – and still functioning!  To see a larger version of this and other photos, along  with more information, go to our:  Dawes County Schools Gallery.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Newsy Nook, Oh, Newsy Nook, Where Art Thou?  This view of downtown Chadron – looking north – reveals a nice bit of Main Street greenery in 1949 or early 1950.  Too, it provides a nostalgic glimpse of quite a few 1940's era automobiles.  On the left, we also see the L.B. Murphy Co., a cafe, and perhaps Saults or Service Drug-store near the center left.  Alas, about all we see of our dear old Newsy Nook on the right is the Coca-Cola sign attached to the south side of the building.  Before the Pace Theatre created its own in-house concession stand, a quick trip to Newsy Nook, movie ticket stub in hand, was almost obligatory.  The shop was a treasure of newspapers, magazines, comic books, popcorn, pop, and a wide variety of penny, two-cent, and nickel candy treats.  Cherry Bings, Licorice Snaps, Big Hunks, Cinnamon Bears, and well, need I go on? 

Take a closer look at this image in our Early Chadron Gallery

Friday, July 10, 2020

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Chadron State student rose to the top of NBC Radio

by Larry Miller
It was 40 years ago this month that the world’s first 24-hour television news service, the Cable News Network, went on the air from Atlanta.  It became better known simply as CNN.   Created in by business tycoon Ted Turner in 1980, the fledgling network initially reached fewer than two million homes in the United States.
Today, CNN is seen in more than 89-million homes across the United States and over 160-million homes around the world.  There’s an abundance of other 24-hour news and information services around the world, too.
Jack Thayer
But CNN wasn’t the first 24-hour news network.  Five years before, in June of 1975, NBC Radio launched its “News and Information Service (NIS),” and the fellow credited with its creation was NBC Radio President Glover “Jack” Thayer.
Thayer was a midwesterner.  Born in Chicago in 1922 and raised in Minnesota – but he also had lived and gone to school in Chadron, Nebraska
Jack Thayer’s father, Harley, was a railroader.  He started his career back in 1897 as a “Station Helper” in Ridgefield, Illinois.  He worked his way through the ranks as a Brakeman, Conductor, then Trainmaster by 1930, Assistant Superintendent, and finally – by the late 1930’s – Superintendent for the Western Line Division of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway headquartered in Chadron.
But son Jack remained with his mother in Minnesota in 1939-40 so he could finish his senior year at Winona High.  He was active in choir and drama, was a cheerleader for three years, but also developed a keen interest in radio, “haunting the local station, KWNO.”  The chief announcer at the station was a fellow named Jack London, a graduate of the Beck School of Radio in Minneapolis, where Thayer would later enroll.  In early May 1940, about three weeks before graduation, Winona High scheduled vocational conferences on a variety of jobs.  One was “Radio Broadcasting,” and the student chairman for that session was “Glover” Thayer.
The Thayers in Chadron - 1941 -  Harley, Jack, and Martha
(Photo courtesy of Tracie Ireland)
After receiving his high school diploma, Thayer was off to Nebraska to join his parents in their new home at 342 Ann Street in Chadron. There wasn’t much summer vacation for Jack, going to work June 6th as a laborer for C&NW before enrolling at Chadron State Teachers College for the 1940 fall term.
Thayer was in good company at CSTC.  Among his classmates was a bright young fellow from Gordon, Nebraska named Val Fitch.  They were also fraternity brothers in Delta Pi Sigma, a popular social fraternity.  Four decades later, Fitch would gain fame as a professor at Princeton University – and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics. 
While Fitch was preparing for a career in science, Jack Thayer was more focused on the arts.  As a freshman, he won Second Award in short story competition and became active in the Pi Kappa Delta, the national forensics honorary fraternity.  He would serve as its vice-president his sophomore year.  The CSTC varsity forensics team, comprised of Thayer and Harold Mitchell, ranked at the top of competition in Omaha and at the State Tournament.  
Another fellow freshman at CSTC was a well-known “local boy,” Don Rickenbach, who later became a highly regarded and successful area rancher.  Rickenbach was also a “brother” in Pi Kappa Delta, and they were pictured together in the 1941-42 CSTC Anokasan yearbook.
Thayer’s two academic years at college in Chadron were chock full of activity.  He was particularly active in drama, serving as president of the Thespians his sophomore year and performing in at least three plays.
There was no radio station in Chadron in the 1940’s, so in the spring of 1942, Thayer departed for the Black Hills of South Dakota and was hired as an announcer at KOBH in Rapid City.  The station later became KOTA, flagship station of what later became Duhamel Broadcasting Enterprises, operating five radio and three television stations across South Dakota, Nebraska, and Wyoming.
First radio job - KOBH Rapid City
(Photo courtesy of Tracie Ireland)
Apart from a photo of the 19-year-old Thayer as a new staff member, there’s little information about his short tenure at KOBH. 
By 1943 Jack was seeking his fortune in Minneapolis, first by attending the Beck School of Radio, followed by a job at WLOL Radio.  He also found a wife.  Marjorie Gossman and Glover “Jack” Thayer were married in 1944. Later that year, son Terry Lee Thayer was born. Meanwhile, Jack’s career as an announcer/salesman for WLOL began to blossom.
In April 1945, he was elected as an officer of the Twin City Radio Announcers IBEW Local 1331 union. He would remain with the station nearly three years – but during that time his marriage ended.
Television came to the Twin Cities in 1948 when KSTP-TV went on the air in St. Paul.  Across town, Joe Beck’s old “School of Radio,” became “Beck Studios,” adding a television school and with plans to build a commercial television station.  The Star Tribune noted that Beck was “even opening a store on Nicollet Avenue to sell television sets” and that Jack Thayer and WLOL colleague Bob Bouchier had quit the station to run the store for Beck.
After WLOL fired a popular host of its “Swing Club” show, they invited Thayer back into the fold.  Minneapolis Tribune columnist Will Jones wrote, “To capture the undershirt and beer listener, WLOL has rehired Jack Thayer.  Thayer, a former salesman for the station, left to sell television sets.  He’s giving up the television business to spin records.”
Jack’s Record Shop” on WLOL Radio became exceptionally popular and picked up a sizable new audience.
Local newspaper ads showed “WLOL Disc Jockey Jack Thayer” in a spiffy new Groshire suit from Grodnik’s haberdashery, proclaiming “I go for Groshire…You’ll go for Groshire, too!”  He also endorsed footwear for Bob’s Shoes for Men. Such ads bolstered Jack’s newfound celebrity – and likely were a welcome supplement to his income.
Some stability seemed to have arrived for Thayer.  His career was going well, and he met a young lady named Donna Marchand.  That summer, they may have talked marriage, because Jack posted an ad in the Star-Tribune on August 18th, simply saying:  “…need 3 to 4 room furnished apartment.  No children - Call AT 0406 8 a.m. to 12 noon except Sun.”   Three weeks later – In early September 1949 – Jack and Donna applied for a marriage license and were married two months later on November 12th.
Two nationally-recognized performers would host Jack’s popular WLOL radio show while the couple was getting hitched.  Star-Tribune columnist Will Jones wrote that singer June Christy and actor/comedian Billy DeWolfe were in town for club appearances and agreed to do the show for Jack.
Thayer remained with WLOL for the next two and one-half years, moving across town to WTCN Radio and Television in 1952.
More big changes were in the offing.
First came the birth of Jack and Donna’s daughter, Tracie Nan, in 1952, followed in 1953 by a son, Todd Neal.
Also in 1953, Thayer launched “Jack’s Corner Drug Store” on WTCN-TV. The show was a “dance get-together” for teens, replete with popular music of the day and dance contests. The studio set was a replica of a drug store, and area high school and college students were invited to participate in the fun.  This was a full four years before Dick Clark and “American Bandstand” would sweep the country.  It was another early indication Jack Thayer was an innovator and had a knack for knowing what audiences would like.
In February 1956.  Jack was lured to WDGY Radio in Minneapolis, which had been bought by Omaha-based Storz Broadcasting.  Young Todd Storz was the instigator of a “revolutionary” radio program format of “Top 40” music that would sweep the country. Thayer had already gained a reputation as the most influential disc jockey in the Twin Cities – credited with getting hit records started locally.  He would become the new General Manager of WDGY.
In September 1956, Donna Thayer gave birth to their second son, Timm.
The next three years brought many new professional challenges for Thayer, including the firing of a popular disc jockey.  These were valuable management experiences for Jack, and he gained stature as a good manager. The station fared well – and so did Jack Thayer.
In 1958, Jack was elected President of the Minnesota Broadcasters Association.  By the following May, after 16 years in in Minneapolis-St. Paul, he left the station to become Vice President and General Manager of KFRC Radio in San Francisco.  It was another short stay, followed by a five-year stint at yet another major market station, WHK in Cleveland, where – among other things – he lured the Beatles to town as part of their legendary 15-city tour of the United States.  Jack said their fee was “the highest entertainment price ever paid to bring a group to Cleveland.”
Thayer was lured back to California by Metromedia in 1965 to take the reins of KLAC in Los Angeles.  The Thayer family – after five years in Cleveland and an earlier brief stay in San Francisco – was ready to settle down.  They went to church at Brentwood Presbyterian Church, where Jack would become an elder.
At KLAC, Thayer began moving the station more and more from music to what was dubbed “two-way talk radio.” The call-in programs with expensive hosts such as Mort Sahl, Joe Pyne and Les Crane were extremely popular – and often quite controversial. Within two years, according to the Los AngelesTimes, Thayer had “built a big winner out of a perennial loser – the best balanced talk station.”  The Times recognized KLAC for its news and special events coverage.  Jack Thayer was honored as “Radio Executive of the Year.”
Audience ratings for KLAC continued to hold strong, and all seemed well.  But in late 1968, cross-town rival KABC Radio began leading in some charts, and – as LA Times columnist Don Page noted – even “high ratings yield to economics.”  Too, the budget for KLAC’s talk radio format was “enormous.” KABC was owned by the ABC network, while KLAC’s owners, Metromedia, seemed to be diversifying itself “out of the radio business,” wrote Page.
Rumors of change abounded at KLAC, and in very early January of 1969, Jack Thayer was fired.
By April, Donna and Jack Thayer divorced, just a few months shy of 20 years of marriage.  Donna would raise the children as Jack departed KLAC and began pursuit of new opportunities in broadcasting.
Within weeks, Thayer – the “architect of ‘two-way’ talk radio” – had formed Radio Consultants, Inc. to assist struggling radio stations.  He was credited with turning around floundering stations in major markets, including WMCA Radio in New York, fixing what was described as a “terminal case of no listenership.”  WMCA’s ratings spiked and its morning audience doubled within just two months.  He found similar success at WGAU in Philadelphia.
It’s all in the planning and promotion and careful audience control,” he was quoted as telling the Los Angeles Times.
A young Don Imus - On the Air
Thayer was hired in 1970 as General Manager of KXOA in Sacramento, where he brought on board a relatively new talent, a young ex-Marine named Don Imus, who’d worked as a railroad brakeman and stumbled into broadcasting at a couple of smaller stations in California.  

Imus’ early “shock jock” strategy generated criticism from inside and outside broadcasting – but gained enormous audiences.  His is also an interesting career, but – alas – Imus had no ties to Dawes County, Nebraska, so we’ll bypass his story!
By early 1971, Jack Thayer had moved to Ohio with Nationwide Communications in Columbus, a subsidiary of Nationwide Insurance Company.  He served as Vice President/General Manager.  The company owned seven broadcasting stations, including WRFD-Columbus and WGAR- Cleveland, among others.   Shortly after arriving, Thayer brought Don Imus from Sacramento to help bolster ratings. 
Jack Thayer’s career of frequent moves was not atypical for broadcasters, but what seemed to set him apart was his ability to land on his feet – almost always in jobs with greater visibility and responsibility.  And he was ever the innovator.
So it likely surprised few in the industry when in July 1974, Jack Thayer had been appointed president of NBC Radio.  His responsibilities would give him authority over the NBC Radio network and its owned-and-operated stations in San Francisco, Washington, New York, and Chicago. Those stations hadn’t been profitable for years.   The Chicago station, WMAQ, hadn’t seen a profit since 1963.  In just 16 months at the helm of NBC Radio, Jack Thayer was able to announce a profit for the station in December 1975.  Optimism abounded.
Jack also wasted no time in forging ahead with planning a new project – something that could transform radio news across the country.  He envisioned a 24-hour radio news service.  There were several all-news stations in major markets, but such a resource was unavailable to medium and smaller markets.  Plans were developed for what was called the NBC News and Information Service (NIS) with a start-up budget of about $10 million.
In February 1975, NBC announced the venture, hoping to attract about 75 of the top 100 markets in the country by mid-April.
Thayer told Broadcasting magazine, “The widespread success of all-news radio in this country is testimony to the information explosion we are experiencing.
He said that the NBC 24-hour service would, ”offer local radio stations the unique opportunity to go all news – practically overnight – backed by the manpower and resources of the world’s largest broadcast news organization.”  And many smaller market stations did sign up, including KLNG in Omaha and KVOC in Casper.
The round-the-clock service was scheduled to begin June 1, 1975, but fewer than 50 stations had signed up by mid-April.  The start-up date was pushed back to June 18th. Larger markets like Los Angeles already had two all-news stations – KNX and KFWB – and it was unlikely another could survive.
Thayer traveled the country meeting with stations to encourage their interest and participation, but the number of stations lagged behind the number needed.  At start up time, there were only 47 stations.
Reviews of the service were mixed.  Some markets loved it and did well, others complained about the quality of the terrestrial microwave distribution system.  Satellite service for the networks had not yet arrived.  After one year of operation, the NIS all-news service had 63 subscribers.
By late 1976, it became apparent that the News and Information Service (NIS) wasn’t going to be viable in the long run.  On November 3, 1976, Thayer announced that the service would be discontinued by mid-1977.
Recent projections demonstrate that NIS will not reach satisfactory levels in future years.  The unavoidable conclusion is that there is no long-term future for NIS as a national service,” he told reporters.
Some supporters of the all-news service claimed it was simply “ahead of its time.”  Within just a few years after NIS pulled the plug, satellite delivery systems began distribution of high quality audio and video signals that far surpassed the fidelity of the old terrestrial microwave.  Too, improved audio and video compression techniques accommodated multiple channels of content, rather than just one.
There was also criticism that NBC had not invested itself enough in the project.  Even some of the NBC owned-and-operated stations did not participate.  And a labor strike at NBC certainly didn’t help.
Jack Thayer ~ NBC Radio
NBC president Herbert Schlosser acknowledged that the venture had not succeeded, but he concluded that “real progress” had been made in strengthening the NBC Radio network and the network-owned stations.
Commenting about Jack’s role in the initiative, one NBC executive observed “He’s done a good job,” and noted that Thayer was brought in as president of NBC Radio to do two things:  “Turn the O&O stations around” and “to bring the radio network out of a loss,” and that, they concluded, is exactly what he did.
Jack Thayer continued to oversee NBC Radio into 1978, but left the network in 1979 to become General Manager at WNEW Radio, the “Big Band Station” in New York City.  Managing WNEW would be Thayer’s last stop on a remarkable career of managing radio and television broadcasting stations.  In 1980, Jack's peers honored him again by electing him President of the New York Broadcasters Association.
In 1983, WNEW was preparing for its 50th birthday in 1984.
The station had been mainstay in the Empire State since the early 1930’s.  Luminaries from Frank Sinatra to Dinah Shore had performed on the 50,000-watt radio powerhouse of New York.
According to Kathy Larkin, writing in the New York Daily News, Thayer believed the story of the station was worthy of saving and sharing – in print, as well as on the air.  He proposed a book full of stories about the founders of the station, entertainers who’d performed there, and how the WNEW signal was so strong that “pilots flying troops home after the war followed its beam into the airfield.”  The book, “Where the Melody Lingers On” would chronicle the storied past of WNEW.
Thayer was on the board of the National Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Foundation.  Some of his friends had been afflicted by the disease, so he went to the board and pledged all proceeds from sales of the book would go to help fight ALS, “Lou Gehrig’s disease.”
At about the same time WNEW was celebrating its 50th year, Thayer received the sad news that his son, Todd Neal Thayer, an account executive for a Los Angeles radio station, had been killed in a glider accident near Los Angeles.  He was 30 years old.
Jack Thayer departed WNEW for what would be his last-known job.  He served as Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President of Gear Broadcasting International, a communications company in Providence, R.I., delving into a relatively new technology:  wireless cable, which was growing in popularity during the mid 1990’s.
He had homes in both Providence, Rhode Island and New York City. While with Gear Broadcasting, he suffered a stroke and lived a few years in Morningside House, a New York nursing home.  He died of a heart attack in Providence  on January 1, 1995.  Jack Thayer was 72 years old.
Jack daughter Tracie, who still lives in California, says her father was cremated.  Some of his ashes were spread over his son Todd’s grave at Forest Lawn in the San Fernando Valley of California. 


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

(Editor's Note:  My sincere thanks to: Tracie Ireland (Jack Thayer's daughter), John MillerCon Marshall, and Terry Sandstrom for their assistance in helping me gather information and photographs for this story.  In 2013 Jack Thayer entered the Minnesota Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  Visit our "Thayer Photo Gallery" to see additional images related to this story. 

~~~~~  Larry Miller / Spearfish, SD

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

In Crawford....three old partners pause for a photo


This 1909 photograph shows (L-R) Doc Middleton, Truman Moody and John Bruer.  Middleton, whose real name was reportedly James Riley, was a "well-known outlaw" across the region in his early years.  The Nebraska Memories project noted that Bruer and Moody had backed Doc Middleton in a "saloon venture" at Ardmore South Dakota in the early 1900s.  Middleton died four years after this photograph was taken.


(Image is from the Crawford Historical Society and Museum)
Nebraska Memories

Monday, June 15, 2020

Limited lodging restored in State Park cabins

LINCOLN, Neb. — The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission will begin restoring limited overnight lodging in park cabins June 18 while continuing to protect the public and staff from the spread of COVID-19.
Starting June 18 and continuing until further notice, any cabins not presently reserved will be available for rental for Thursday, Friday or Saturday night stays, with Sunday checkouts. Any new reservations will be subject to availability, and a minimum two-night stay will be required for new reservations.
Park staff will contact guests with existing cabin reservations to discuss how they might be affected, and the process for checking into their cabin.
No early arrivals or late checkouts will be allowed. The cabins will not be available Sunday through Wednesday nights to allow for thorough cleaning and disinfection between guest stays. The agency will re-evaluate this decision in mid-July.
Game and Parks continues to restore park opportunities and amenities across the state in concert with current Nebraska Directed Health Measures.
“We are pleased to have cabins back open for guests to enjoy,” Game and Parks Director Jim Douglas said. “We will continue to evaluate protocols with the hopes of restoring more opportunities in the future. We encourage guests to adhere to social distancing recommendations in common areas.”
Cabins will be open for reservations at Eugene T. Mahoney, Platte River, Ponca, Niobrara, Fort Robinson and Chadron state parks, as well as Lewis and Clark, Two Rivers, Victoria Springs, and Medicine Creek Reservoir state recreation areas. Reservations are subject to availability and can be made online.
Guests are encouraged to bring their own hand sanitizer during their stay. The number of linens available in the cabins will be limited to control laundry, so guests are asked to conserve or reuse linens during their stay.
A decision on restoring overnight stays at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Peter Kiewit Lodge and the lodge and Comanche Hall at Fort Robinson State Park is pending.
Guests can call park offices for more details. Find park contact information at OutdoorNebraska.gov/stateparks or OutdoorNebraska.gov/lodging-2.
Tent camping and RV camping remain open at state park and recreation areas and wildlife management areas across the state. Designated swim areas and beaches are open. Park offices and service centers remain temporarily closed, as do most park activities.
Park guests are encouraged to stay home if sick or knowingly exposed to someone with COVID-19, follow all local health directives, limit group size, practice social distancing, use hand sanitizer and practice good hygiene.
For more information regarding state parks and the impacts of COVID-19 go to OutdoorNebraska.org.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Chadron Prep: Athletic Powerhouse of Yesteryear!

By Con Marshall

Chadron Prep played a big role in Chadron’s athletic history, particularly in the late 1940s and 1950s under the guidance of Archie Conn, who for many years was recognized as one of the outstanding high school basketball coaches in the country and also had lots of success as a football and track coach.

Prep was the high school level of the Campus Laboratory School that was affiliated with Chadron State College so its education majors would have students to work with during the final phases of their teacher training.

Prep closed 59 years ago, in 1961, but still has many proud alumni living in Chadron as well as other places. In 1960, it was announced that the state was planning to build a new high school at the college. But before long, it was decided to use the funding it would have taken to construct the school to strengthen college programs instead and place the college’s student teachers in existing schools in the region.

The Junior Eagles, as the Prep athletic teams were known, also had their moments of glory in the mid-1930s, under Ross Armstrong, who was connected with Chadron State College for over 50 years and probably had the name most recognizable of anyone ever associated with Chadron athletics.

Armstrong arrived in Chadron in 1933 to start a Physical Education Department at the college and to serve as the college’s assistant coach for both football and basketball. Before long he also was asked to be the prep school’s head basketball coach.

It seems the Prep team was being coached by a math professor who knew very little about basketball. One of the team’s standouts, Sherman Crites, was the nephew of Judge Edwin Crites of Chadron, a member the college’s governing board for 22 years all told. At Sherman’s urging, the judge persuaded the college’s president, Robert Elliott, to make Armstrong the Prep basketball coach. Ross had the post three years with outstanding results, although his luck wasn’t the best.

Armstrong’s three-year record was 60-6. Both the 1935 and 36 teams qualified for the state tournament. The first time, the Junior Eagles lost to Holmesville 23-21 in double overtime in the opening round after two of the top players, Joe O’Rourke and Jack Geckler, missed the contest because of illness. The next year, Prep went to the state tourney undefeated, but lost to Blue Hill 20-18 in a single overtime period in the opening round. Jim Butler was another standout on both teams.

Old records show that Prep also went to state in 1926 in an era when any school that could afford to make the trip could enter the tourney.  The Chadron quintet beat Omaha North 17-6 in the first round and then lost to Plattsmouth 17-16.  Armstrong also coached basketball at Chadron Prep for two years during World War II, when athletics were suspended at the college after all the able-bodied men on campus had been drafted or joined the military effort. Once again, misfortune struck just as the basketball season was concluding.

After an outstanding regular season, the Junior Eagles were hit by mumps as they entered the district tournament. Nearly half the team was sidelined. Although Prep still reached the finals, it was defeated in the closing minutes by Cody to end the season. Jerry Hartman and Bud Heiser were the team’s top players.

After the war ended and college athletics resumed, Armstrong began coaching all three sports at CSC again. When the Prep football team lost all eight of its games in 1946, the decision was made to hire a capable coach for the Junior Eagles.  Archie Conn, a Bayard native who had been an excellent athlete at Chadron State in the late 1920s and early ’30s, was the choice.

During an interview years later, Conn recalled, in his humble way, that he scored a touchdown off the first pass thrown to him in college and then made the first three shots he took while playing basketball for the Eagles.

Conn’s first three football teams at Prep compiled a 21-1-1 record and during his first 12 years as the basketball coach he had a phenomenal 247-31 win-loss mark. At one stage of his career at Prep, Conn’s teams had won 184 of 199 games. They won three Class C state championships, 11 district crowns and nine conference titles.

The state championships came in 1949-50, 1951-52 and 1954-55. All three teams were undefeated.

Archie Conn, highly successful Chadron Prep coach and also director of the Campus Laboratory School that included Prep, received the Chadron State College Distinguished Service Award in 1976 from Dr. Edwin C. Nelson, the CSC president.
The 1950 champions were led by Bob Armstrong, Charlie Muma and Danny Kuska, who scored 33 points in Prep’s 47-37 win over Waverly in the championship game. Kuska finished as the state tournament’s leading scorer with 62 points and was an easy all-state choice that year, when he averaged 18 points a game.

Armstrong, son of Ross Armstrong, made all-state the following year.

In 52, the Junior Eagles squeezed past West Point 45-43 in the semifinals before toppling Gibbon 35-24 in the championship game. At 26-0, they were the only unbeaten team in Nebraska at the end of the season. Muma and Larry Lytle, who was later a basketball star at Chadron State, received all-state honors.

The Prepsters had their 42-game winning streak snapped on Friday, Feb. 13, 1953 at Hay Springs, where Verne Lewellen, later the Chadron High coach, was tutoring the Hawks.  Hay Springs kept the Junior Eagles from scoring in the third period. Prep’s only other loss during the 20-2 season was dealt by Lyman 47-43 in the finals of the District Tournament in Hay Springs.

The Junior Eagles went 24-2 the following year. Behind 24 points by Marv Tackett, Crawford won 55-51 about mid-season in the Chadron Community Building. Syracuse got 20 points from all-star Lyle Nannan and defeated Prep 42-37 in the state tourney semifinals before knocking off Franklin 47-28 in the championship game. 

Those score comparisons prompted Omaha World-Herald sportswriter Gregg McBride to rank Prep No. 2 in his final Class C rankings. He also placed Jim Hampton, a 5-5 sophomore starter on the 1952 state championship team but a 6-foot senior in 1953-54, on the Class C all-state team. Prep had a 70-4 record during his three years as a starter. 

Hampton went on to be a three-year starter at Chadron State and led the Eagles in scoring with 14.8- and 16.3-point averages his final two seasons.  He concluded his college career with 1,043 points.
Before the 1954-55 season began, Conn said that team could be his best and it went on to post a 24-0 record. It featured Ed Kuska, Danny’s brother, Jay Muma, Charlie’s brother, 6-foot-6 Jim Link, and brothers Tom and Dick Mingus.

Prep beat Trenton 60-28 in the regional playoffs and then topped Beaver Crossing 54-40 behind Link’s 28 points and Clarkson 54-50 in Lincoln.  

The championship game was a donnybrook. The score was tied eight times and the lead changed hands seven times before Prep won.  Kuska was an all-state selection and Conn was named Nebraska’s High School Basketball Coach of the Year.
           
Fifty-one years later, Conn was inducted posthumously into the Nebraska State High School Athletic Hall of Fame and his three state championship teams from the ’50s were recognized as the Golden Anniversary Teams.

Archie Conn, the head coach when Chadron Prep won Class C state tournament basketball championships in 1950, 1952 and 1955, was inducted into the Nebraska State High School Athletic Hall of Fame posthumously in 2001. During the ceremonies the three championship teams were designated Golden Anniversary Teams by the Hall of Fame. These Prep athletes and those who had been Prep students were in attendance. In front, from left, are Tom Mingus, Doug Wilson, Cal Clark, Glen Wyatt, Bob Armstrong, Franklin Clark, Charlie Snook and Barb Snook. In the back are Kenny Churchill, Hope Hampton Weaver, Jay Muma, Marion Shellhorn, Bob Buchanan, Jim Hampton, Jim Link, Danny Kuska, Dick Mingus, Bob Egly, Phil Williams, Gary Clements, Dave Roberts and Janet Redfern Adams.









(EDITOR'S NOTE:  Higher resolution images of the above photo – and others – may be viewed in our Dawes County Journal Schools Gallery.)

Even though, Jay Muma and Dick Mingus were the only returning starters on the 1955-56 team, the Junior Eagles finished 21-2. Torrington snapped Prep’s 37-game winning skein 62-55 in early February behind 23 points by Ron Theiman and Spencer won 59-54 in the regional playoffs in O’Neill to end the season.  Prep led 36-27 the final game at halftime, but had 13 fouls called against it in the third quarter and both Muma and Mingus fouled out. 

McBride put the Prepsters third in his Class C rankings and tabbed Muma as an all-stater.

A third Muma, Dick, was another excellent basketball player for the Junior Eagles. He started as a freshman on the 1955-56 team and joined with Dick Rickenbach to lead the 1957-58 quintet to a 19-3 record during an era when just four teams went to state in each class.  Both Prep teams won the district championship but lost out in regional play.

The same thing happened in 1958-59, Dick’s senior season. The Junior Eagles finished with an 18-5 record, but lost to Lodgepole 55-50 in the regional championship game. Prep had to play the regional tourney without Harlan Hakanson, its second best player, because he had the flu and Muma collected four fouls in the first half and drew his fifth halfway through the fourth quarter of the title game.   

During the District Tournament, Dick poured in 42 points against Lyman to break Danny Kuska’s single-game school scoring record of 38 set in 1949.  The next night he was 16-18 from the free throw line while tallying 28 points against Hay Springs in the district semifinals.  Prep barely squeezed past Minatare 36-35 in the district championship game and edged Loup City 45-42 in the first round of the Regional showdown before Lodgepole won the title tilt.

Dick, who averaged 22 points his senior year, was Prep’s only two-time all-state player and was listed as the Class C Player of the Year by Nebraska High School Sports published in 1980.  

All three of the Muma brothers topped the 1,000-point mark during their careers. Charlie tallied 1,090, Jay 1,198 and Dick 1,545. No one else apparently ever reached four figures for the Junior Eagles. Dick also averaged 20.8 points as a senior at Chadron State in 1963-64, the only full season he played at CSC after attempting to break into the University of Nebraska lineup earlier. 

Folks who knew the Muma family have often wondered how many points Mary Ann, the youngest member of the family and a six-footer who was frequently seen shooting baskets with Dick in their yard, might have rung up if she would have had the opportunity to play the game.  A story in the Chadron Record about Dick becoming a two-time all-stater noted that Mary Ann may have been a better shooter than any of her brothers.  

While Conn is often remembered as an outstanding basketball coach, he also had lots of success as a football mentor at Prep.

Conn’s first football team at Prep in 1947 went 7-1, losing only to Rushville 19-14.

In 1948, the Junior Eagles, stocked with 13 seniors, finished 8-0 while outscoring their foes 205-27. The next year, despite the fact that half of the 30-man squad were freshmen, the team went 7-0-1 with a 0-0 tie with Rushville the only blemish.

Danny Kuska, who played end on offense and “all over on defense,” according to his coach, was the standout of the 49 team. He caught eight touchdown passes, returned three interceptions for touchdowns and kicked 15 extra points while earning all-state honors. One of his interceptions came with 10 seconds left and gave the Junior Eagles a 27-20 win over the Provo Rattlers after he also kicked the PAT.

Kuska was the only high school athlete in Chadron to earn all-state honors in both football and basketball and also place at the state track meet until Michael Wahlstrom accomplished that feat at Chadron High 50 years later. 

Prep had a couple more excellent football teams in 1957 and ’58 when Rudy Pinsky, a Chadron State history professor, coached the Junior Eagles. Their only loss the first year was to Edgemont, but they beat Rushville 26-13 for the first time in 10 years to tie Gordon for the Northwest Nebraska Conference championship.

Pinsky said the backfield, comprised of Dick Muma at quarterback and Bob Broberg, Jim Heidebrecht and Dick Rickenbach, had great balance and credited Glen Gray, Keith Benthack and Ken Cullers with excellent line play in 1957.  The ’58 team finished with a 5-2 record and edged Chadron High 20-12 in the only football game between the Junior Eagles and Cardinals that anyone seemed to remember.

With just two seniors on the roster, the Cardinals had sophomores playing most of the skill positions in 1958, but went 7-1 the next year and were a juggernaut two years later when they finished 8-0 and outscored their foes by an average of 34 to 9 points. The 1960 Cards were one of the three undefeated football teams Gordon “Fuzz” Watts had during his spectacular coaching tenure at Chadron High.   

Prep Coach Archie Conn
Conn also coached the Junior Eagles to a couple of Northwest Nebraska Conference track and field championships early in his tenure at Prep. Led by sprinters Rob Garfoot and Glen Wyatt, Prep overwhelmed the opposition in 1949 with 41 7/10 points while runner-up Hay Springs had 24.

In 1950, Prep scored exactly the same number of points while Hay Springs was again second with 23 ½. Wyatt set conference records of 22.7 in the 220 and 51.4 in the 440 that spring. Kuska won the broad jump and was second in both hurdle races and the pole vault in 1950.

Prep had three state champions at state track and field meets in the 1950s.

Wyatt won the Class C 440 in 51.9 seconds in 1950 after placing second the year before in 51.5 seconds. His times were second in the all-class medal standings in the race both years.

Wyatt also was third in the 220 in 1949. Danny Kuska was third in the long jump in ‘49 and placed second in the low hurdles and fourth in the highs at the state meet in 1950.

Pole vaulter Tom Williams cleared 11-3 to tie for first in Class C in 1955. He improved to 11-9 the next year, but had to settle for second.

Prep’s final state champion was Emmett American Horse, who transferred from Gordon for his senior year in 1958 and won the Class C 880.  He also had been the Class B state champion in the half mile at Gordon the previous year.

Emmett’s older brother, famed distance runner Joe American Horse, won the Class B mile run three times and was the all-class mile champion twice for the Gordon Broncs in the mid-1950s.

Besides being strong in athletics, Prep had an outstanding academic reputation. Many of its instructors also were Chadron State College professors, and numerous Prep graduates went on to earn advanced college degrees and became successful professionals.  

Prep students went out on a high note in 1961.  Just a few weeks before the high school was shut down, Prep won top honors at the Chadron State Scholastic Contest.