Monday, August 9, 2021

Memories of Chadron's Newsy Nook

by Larry Miller 

Like many of the generation that frequented the Newsy Nook in downtown Chadron, memories abound regarding what truly was a mere "nook" along 2nd and Main Street.  Hardly more than a "hole in the wall," Newsy Nook  was nestled close to the heart of what it meant to grow up in a rural high plains community in the post World War Two years, and – as we learned – even earlier.

Newsy Nook was a refuge.  It was like comfort food for the soul.  It was a safe and fun place to visit, if only for a short while to buy a few pieces of affordable candy – from Necco wafers and cinnamon bears to Big Hunk candy bars and a bottle of pop. 

Ah....we overlooked the "news" part.  Adults found it a good source for newspapers and magazines.  For the kids, it was a rotating rack of adventure and fun delivered through comic books.

And as we mention "news," we have some "late-breaking" news.

Well, it's actually more history than news, and it begins with the great stock market crash of 1929.  A lady in Bloomington, Illinois, Mrs. Ralph White, was named winner of the "Name Our Store Contest" sponsored by a small business at 103 and 1/2 Front Street in Bloomington. The name of her winning entry: "Newsy Nook." That new business may have survived the stock market crash, but today that specific location is lost among new developments, including a multi-level parking lot adjacent to the Bloomington City Office building. 

So what does this have to do with our Newsy Nook in Chadron?

Probably nothing.  But it's the only other "Newsy Nook" we found in a newspaper search on Newspapers.com.

Unless........sometime in that Depression era a fellow named "Bill" arrived in Chadron from Bloomington and thought he'd start a business with the same name.  Okay, that's pretty weak, but it's all I have.  

Until.....just a few weeks before President Franklin Roosevelt ordered a "Bank Holiday" in March 1933 and called Congress into session and placed an embargo on gold.  The U.S. economy was in turmoil.   But in Chadron, Nebraska, a group of Chadron men assembled for a chess tournament, playing two games a week for four weeks.  Sixteen well-known gents faced off in what was described as "hot battles" at "Bill's Newsy Nook" and the Thompson Drug Store.

"One team is sponsored by the (Tope) Thompson Cut-Rate Drug Store, and the other by Bill's Newsy Nook," according to the Chadron Record.

And the teams were a veritable "who's-who" of local businessmen.  They included – for "Tope's Cut Raters: Joe Webster, Ole Sove, C.W. Mitchell, John Brewer, Fred Crites, Dr. Courshon, Dr. Harrington, and Leo Bump."  

Bill's Newsy Nookers were Ross Scott, E.A. Scott, Emil Anderson, Harry McClain, C.A. VanDeurson, George Babcock, John Koske, and Walter Scott.  

Newspaper display ads touted Newsy Nook as "Baseball Score Headquarters" and promoted the existence of a "Scoreboard," perhaps posted inside the Nook.

Alas, we don't know yet who "Bill" of Newsy Nook fame might have been – but we're on the trail!

The newspaper business, of course, was a key ingredient of Newsy Nook activities.  Local and area papers were there, along with the papers from Omaha and elsewhere.  In 1935, resident Bud Gray was looking for boys to deliver the Denver Post, and Newsy Nook was the gathering point.  It is not clear if Bud was a new owner of the Newsy Nook, or simply in charge of Denver Post deliveries in Chadron.  

By 1935, brothers Russell and Dale Tangeman were owners of the Newsy Nook, but they chose to sell the business to former railroad employee F. C. Randall.  He took possession in September of 1935, and the Tangemans reportedly went back to school.

On Thanksgiving Day of 1935, the Chadron Chronicle ran the ad at left touting Randall's Newsy Nook as "The News Center" in Chadron, selling newspapers and magazines, but also promoting "confections" including popcorn.  Popcorn became a great favorite for a long time, particularly in those years that the Pace Theatre – just down the block – did not yet have a concession stand.  Kids, as well as adults, could purchase their movie ticket, and with a ticket stub in hand, duck up the street to the Newsy Nook, buy their concession treats, and head back down to the Pace for the movie.  

By the following May, Mr. Randall sold Newsy Nook to Clifford Phillips, who'd been "in the popcorn business" for several years with the the Sun Confectionery.  The story made Page 1 of the Chadron Chronicle on Friday, May 29, 1936.


It appears Mr. Phillips operated the business pretty much as it had been – but for only a similar short period of time.  

By 1938, Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Knight had taken ownership of the business.  They had previously operated the "Knight Owl" at 130 West 3rd Street, and they remained owners until after the Japanese bombed Pear Harbor in December 1941, and the world entered in to its Second World War.

Page 3 of the Chadron
Record
- 28 Aug 1942
It was August 27, 1942 that the Chronicle newspaper observed that "Mrs. Knight Needed Rest, So Sells Business."  The Knights had operated the "profitable little newstand" for four years.  Ownership was passed to Mr. and Mrs. Rudolph Koch of Mullen, Nebraska.

The sale was described as a surprise to both parties, who'd apparently known each other for many  years.  The Kochs had lived at Clinton, Nebraska for several years, and Mr. Koch had been superintendent of schools at Mullen the previous year.  The Chronicle noted that "The Knight's...will continue the Denver Post agency in this community and Mrs. Knight will take life a little easier."

The only real change noted in operations, if one follows their display ads in the newspaper, was the addition of "School Supplies."

The Newsy Nook endured the World War II years.  By early 1948, however, they sold the business to the lady who would own the Newsy Nook longer than any other of its many owners.  Mrs. Mayme (Carpenter) Finney,  a native of Wisconsin who had moved to Nebraska as a young lady.  She married George Glen Finney in 1919 and taught school at Marsland for several years before moving to Chadron.  Glen worked at the Chadron Milling Company.  While we don't know exactly when, we do know that Mayme became the distributor for the Omaha World-Herald prior to taking possession of the Newsy Nook on May 1, 1948.  

Old-timers around Chadron well remember Mrs. Finney.  But equally well know to many customers over the years was Phyllis Wagner.  A small perky lady with a delightful British accent, a native of Southhampton, England, she had met Navy Chief Petty Officer Roy Wagner at the end of World War One.  They married in England and moved to the sandhills of Nebraska for a short time before relocating to Chadron.   They  had lived in Chadron for nearly three decades before Phyllis – whose real name was Dorothy Maude (Jackman) Wagner – joined Mayme Finney at Newsy Nook.  Finney operated Newsy Nook for more than 16 years, longer than any other proprietor.  

Among the many young World-Herald newspaper carriers in Chadron was young Jim Sandstrom whose memories of the Newsy Nook – as shared with us recently – were quite vivid.

"The Newsy Nook was indeed the first stop to load up on goodies for the Saturday western an short (Pace Theatre)...As a World-Heral paper boy, I worked for Mayme.  I would see her every day as she recorded the number of papeers that I took for delivery and every Saturday as I went to Newsy Nook to settle my bill for papers.  My recollection is that she was a nice lady and very focused on the task at hand.  The papers arrived every dat at 2 p.m. on the C&NW from Omaha.  In the summer, we (all the paper boys/girls) met the train at 2 to eat ice from the ice cart, watch the unloading from the freight car to the big wagon,m help push the wagon to the freight room in the station, and then take the number of papers we needed to deliver.  Mayme would record the number of papers taken.  During school we would pick up our papers from the freight room after school for delivery.  My route was Chadron Avenue, and I had the route for three or four years.  It was a good learning experience, but the daily commitment became tiring after a while."

It was in late March 1964 that ownership of the Newsy Nook changed once more.  The new owner of the Nook was Dave Hulshizer, who had operated Hennessy's Book Store – another long-time business in Chadron.  He announced that Mrs. Wagner would remain on to manage the store.

We're still exploring the final years of the Newsy Nook.  We understand that Dean Fankhauser, a long-time local businessman who'd been involved with Chadron Wholesale – among other businesses – bought Newsy Nook in 1972.

It was in the spring of 1973 that John Chaney bought what the Chadron Record called three "ancient buildings" at 248, 250 and 252 Main Street from C.F. Coffee.  Former Chadron resident Dave Rice, a school chum of Chaney's, was contracted to demolish the adjacent buildings.  The paper reported that "This project will remove from the center of the business district three old buildings which already moved out."  The Newsy Nook, wrote the paper, "has moved to the basement of the Young Shop building at Second and Chadron."

By 1974, the modern two-story Chaney building was in operation, and the Newsy Nook was gone from 252 Main Street forever.

Phyllis Wagner, known by many over the years as "Miss Newsy," died the day after Thanksgiving of that year.  Mayme Finney remained in Chadron for several more years until moving to Grant, Nebraska, where she died in February of 1981.

Chadron resident Roger Evans reportedly bought the old "Ralph's Jumble Shop" at 140 Main Street in the mid-1970s and renamed the business "Newsy Nook and Bargain Barn."

Both Newsy Nook and Ralph's Jumble Shop had long histories in Chadron, but little is known about the merged enterprise.  One thing is for sure, the Newsy Nook operation – as it had existed for some four decades – was transformed into something much different than was known and fondly remembered by at least two generations in Chadron.

And, alas, we still have no good photograph of the Newsy Nook!

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 Editor's Note:  We'd like to thank Arnie Fankhauser, Jim Sandstrom, and John Miller for their assistance in the preparation of this story!