Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Winter Wednesday


The entrance to Omaha Beach on the east end of the Sutherland Oregon Trail Golf Course at the Sutherland Reservoir.
A snow covered lane at the east end of the Sutherland Reservoir.
The Sutherland Reservoir.
Hereford cows on a snowy hillside.

Windmill in the snow.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nebraska Through The Seasons Part 2

Taken three hours after sunrise on Sunday, February 23, 2014.


This photo was taken an hour after sunrise on Sunday, January 26. Looking north from Haugland Hill over the South Platte River Valley toward the Village of Sutherland.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Stories: Grandma Van Part 1

From the memoir of Nellie Thurman Williams VanArsdall, 1888 - 1993.

My parents, Thomas C. Williams and Emma S. Williams immigrated from Van Wert, Ohio, in about 1875, to Boone County, Nebraska.

My father did not actually take a homestead, but bought a relinquishment from a man who decided not to stay in this brand new prairie country.

Our farm was about 3 miles northwest of St. Edward, up the Beaver Creek, which flowed along the west side of the town of St. Edward.

Our place was a level quarter section of rich bottom land along the Beaver Creek. This creek cut off a fraction of an acre on both the northeast and southeast corners of the quarter. Our building site was located almost in the middle of the quarter, so that in case neighbors built homes on bordering quarters, our chickens and other livestock would not be so apt to trespass on them.

On this farm seven children were born, Harry Ellsworth, Daisy Ann, Mary Elma, Jay LeRoy, Myrtle Johnson (My mother’s maiden name), Nellie Thurman and Thomas Corwin, Jr.
L-R Tom Williams, Daisy Williams, Nellie Williams
My father died on April 24, 1891 of pneumonia, after an illness of just three days. At the time of his death, he was serving a second term as sheriff of Boone County. Albion was the county seat, and my father drove a team, or rode a horse there, (a distance of about 10 miles) each day, except for an occasional day, now and then, when he would walk to the railroad (about ½ mile) and the morning train would stop for him and in the evening, he would ride the evening train back, and get off at the crossroad and walk home.

It had been a wet spring at the time of my father’s death. He had gotten off the train as usual, but had to cross the slough on his walk home. The water was high and he got soaked in the crossing. By the time he reached home, he was chilled, caught pneumonia and died just three days later.

On the day of my fathers’ funeral the U.P.R.R. ran a special train from Albion so that those who wished to, could attend his funeral.

At my father’s death the burden of being the head of the family fell upon the shoulders of my 14 year old brother, Harry. He told me he often lay awake at night, wondering what would become of us all.

At times, it was a bitter struggle, but we always seemed to have plenty to eat, though at times there wasn’t much of a variety. And, mother, in one way or another, always managed to keep us clothed. She had been raised by a Quaker mother so, of course, thrift was one of her virtues.

She was a good seamstress, and made most of our clothing – even our winter underwear, which were made of cotton flannel, the pants of which were made with a band at the ankles, much like the cuff of a man’s shirt.
The girls wore long black stockings over these and the boys wore wool knitted socks, which were knitted by mother. She also knitted all of our mittens and “wristlets”. These were made like a portion of a leg of a sock, were four or five inches long, and were worn on the wrist, just above the mitten top, probably, more often than not, to bridge the gap between the mittens and the too-short sleeves of out-grown coats.

I can remember that our wrists were often very sore and chapped from the exposure to the cold when we didn’t wear these wristlets. They were often made of a very bright colored yarn in a variety of designs, and often were edged with small scallops of a contrasting color. I can remember that the children always vied with each other as to who had the prettiest wristlets.

Shoes were always one of the largest expenses, even though they were made of heavy leather, and often out-grown before they were worn out. The girls wore high-topped button shoes, and the boys high-topped laced shoes, sometimes boots. The shoes were always a problem, as they had to be buttoned with a “button hook” which was often misplaced, and there was a scramble about every school day morning to find the hook, as everyone hurried to get ready for school. Whenever a new pair of shoes was purchased, a button hook always came with them.

My father carried a $2000 policy with the Modern Woodman Insurance Company, and after his death, my mother used this to build a 1 ½ story house, 5 rooms – 2 bedrooms upstairs, 1 bedroom, small parlor, and large kitchen downstairs.

The closed stairway was built slightly to the north of the center of the house, making the north room (the boys’ room) smaller than the south room which was the girls’ room. At the top of the stairs there was a small hall, from which the doors to the two rooms led. And at the end of the hall was a small closet. I can still remember seeing my father’s old Union Army soldier suit and cap hanging there.
Screen capture of the roster of the 118th Ohio Infantry, Company J showing Thomas C Corwin's service.
The insurance was adequate to also build a small barn. But this was later, as I can remember seeing the barn being built. The barn had stalls for 5 horses, and a small bin for grain, and there was a hay mow above.
A carpenter oversaw the construction of the barn, but neighbors contributed their help in every way they could, such as hauling the lumber, sawing, etc. They did this when the house was built, too.

We had lived in a sod house until the new house was built. I don’t remember living in it, but, I can remember playing around the ruins of it later. In those days neighbors were always good neighbors, always coming to the aid of anyone who needed help.

Our neighbors were the Dave and Harry Clarke (brothers) families, the Justin and Orrison Postles (brothers), Dave Shafers, “Hook” Long, Frank Waite, Farrels, Coyles, Williards and many others. Of course, all of these were not there at the time of my father’s death, but some of them settled there later.

Mother was often called to help at the birth of neighborhood babies, often delivering them without the help of a doctor, then cared for mother and baby until the mother was able to be up and about.

In this way she managed to repay many of the neighbors, who had helped so much at the time of my father’s death. I think one of the finest customs of that time was the spirit of helpfulness that seemed to be born in everybody. Anyone in trouble never needed to be afraid that he wouldn’t be taken care of – neighbors were always standing by, ready to do what needed to be done, and they always did just that. This is one of the very valuable assets of the human race, which has been lost along the way in this mad progress race – the spirit of neighborliness and brotherly love that pervaded the country at that time.


No doubt the loss of this spirit is partly the cause of so much poverty and suffering in the slum districts of cities and over the country at large. We just do not take care of our own. Besides the physical help, the strength and moral help and understanding and encouragement is often as important. But in this day and age, this help is too seldom offered. But, it seems, such is the price we pay for progress, moral values are submerged to make way for the acquisition of riches and personal fame.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sunday Stories: Lessons from our history

The following story is an excerpt from the Sutherland History Book - 1891- 1991. It tells the story of my own great-grandparents Ray Alexander VanArsdall and Nellie Thurman Williams VanArsdall. Nellie was born in 1888 in St. Edward, Nebraska and died in the hospital in Ogallala in February of 1993. Her death was overshadowed by the death of my own father, Paul Eugene Seifer on February 12 of 1993.

My great-grandfather Ray died before I was born, but I knew Nellie "Grandma Van" as we called her, while was growing up. She was an extraordinary woman. Not only had she lived to travel by horse and buggy, then trains, then automobiles and finally airplanes and went from a quiet, dark world to a world with touch-of-a-button electricity, radio and television, but she was personally very accomplished. She had been valedictorian of her high school class, taught school, became a supervisor of the Goodall plant in Sutherland, and wove beautiful, highly sought-after rugs (of which I am the proud owner of two!). She could whistle amazing tunes and on a walk through the Sandhills could identify every plant, flower and weed in the pasture.

Unfortunately, the lesson I learned from her is a negative one. From the time she was in her 60's, she decided she was old and needed someone to take care of her. After her husband passed away in 1960, she decided that person was my grandmother, her daughter, Muriel. She didn't do anything on her own. When she walked down the street, she shuffled her steps and stopped every little while clutching her chest and catching her breath. She stopped making rugs. She stopped doing anything independently, to show that she had to live with Muriel.

I wonder, if she had known she had 30 more years to live, would she have done it differently? Sixty, seventy and even eighty doesn't seem that old any more. My mother will turn 80 this year, and my mother-in-law is 82. They are vibrant, active women. Mom still works nearly full time during the summer in Seifer Farms Chickens, owns her own business, the First Street Fitness Center in Sutherland, and an apartment building, and Vernadean volunteers one day a week at the hospital, considering it her job. I myself am 52 and certainly don't consider myself old and don't plan to for a long, long time. Grandma Van's wasted second half of her life has shown me not to waste any of the time we are given.

Here is her story from the History Book:
Ray and Nellie at their wedding, in 1908.
Ray VanArsdall was born in Missouri in 1804, but moved to Smithfield, Nebraska where, in 1908 he met and married Nellie Williams. They lived in Boone County, Nebraska, until 1910 or 1911, at which time they moved to Sutherland with their first born, Vance, who was born in 1910. Along with them came Ray’s parents, John and Hettie (Cunningham) VanArsdall.

Ray had a brother, Vance, who was married to a woman named Isobel. They had a baby that died within a year or two after birth, and both parents shortly after. Ray’s sister, Onie, married and lived in mid-Nebraska. Vance had a barbershop in Sutherland for several years.

The family lived on various farms south and southwest of Sutherland. At one time they lived south of Hauglands in the middle of what is now the reservoir. After they moved to the edge of Sutherland, Ray continued to farm a piece of ground south and east about 17 miles, which belonged to Hettie, whom we all called Teeny Grandma because of her small size.

John VanArsdall worked on the reservoir and he died in 1937. Teeny Grandma’s mother, Sarah “Carrie” Cunningham lived in the area also, and died in 1934. After Teeny Grandma died in 1956, Ray pretty well retired. He liked to walk up town every day and get the mail and gab with whoever he met. He would also kibitz the checker players although I don’t recall ever hearing that he played.
Ray and Nellie VanArsdall, with Irene Gamble Seifer, probably taken in 1935 (Irene was born in 1934 and appears to be around a year old in this photo.
Nellie, Grandma “Van”, worked several years for the Goodall plant, becoming a supervisor. During this period she bought a loom and weaved many beautiful rugs. She spent many long evenings tearing carpet rags and planning how she would put the colors together for the prettiest patterns. Some of her rugs were sold in Brandies in Omaha, and a souvenir store in Mitchell. I’ll bet there are still some of the rugs she made being used somewhere. She also pieced quilt tops and there are several still to be made into quilts.

Ray VanArsdall died in 1960 when his namesake Ray Seifer was six months old. Nellie passed away in 1993 at the age of 104 in Ogallala, Nebraska.

Vance was born in 1910. Muriel Luedke in 1912, Max in 1913, and Ruth Edwards in 1920.


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Want to experience more of Nebraska? Support LB 551

Farming and Ranching in Nebraska is a tough, tough business.

There is drought… and flooding. There are high land prices… and high property taxes. There are high cattle and commodity prices… and high input prices. There are also low cattle and commodity prices… and still high input prices.

It is said that farmers and ranchers are the only business owners who buy retail, sell wholesale and pay the freight both ways. It is a tough way to make a living, yet Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers love it.

What they don’t love is that people are so disconnected with who grows the food that they eat, that they don’t understand the issues involved. Like “don’t slaughter that beautiful cow… get your meat at the grocery store where no animal is harmed.”

One tactic to combat all of these issues can be accomplished by one action: Invite people to come on to your farm and/or ranch and let them experience Nebraska’s rural lifestyle – for a fee. The farming and ranching family earns an income from Nebraska’s third largest industry (that’s tourism, if you didn’t know), and more people get to experience the beauty that we know is Nebraska. Of course, the entire state wins as well with additional revenue across industries.

Why don’t we do more of this? Because of the structure of Nebraska’s recreational liability laws. Briefly, the way it stands now is this. If a landowner wants to earn extra income and charge you a fee for experiencing a rural vacation, they bear 100% of the liability if you should be hurt. Even if it were something completely out of their control, and even if some foolishness on your part contributed to an injury.

Can you imagine how cost prohibitive it is for landowners to get insurance when they bear 100% of the liability? All other states whose rural economy thrives on farm stays and dude ranch experiences provide for a shared responsibility.

For many years, the Nebraska Tourism Industry has made it a priority to enact legislation that would provide for a shared liability. LB 551 is currently in the judiciary committee, where it has been before. This committee is dominated by eastern senators who don’t understand the needs of rural Nebraska. You can help move this bill out of committee by contacting these senators and asking them to support their rural neighbors by giving them the tools that will allow them to develop another income stream from their properties.

Developing a new tourism attraction is hard and expensive. Many banks won’t even discuss loans for such enterprises. However, landowners often have little or no added investment (except, of course, you know… liability insurance. Then there’s the risk of losing your family farm…) by opening up their land to horseback riding, photography, nature walks, etc.

I am currently working with landowners to allow blinds for crane viewing, prairie chicken viewing and prairie dog viewing (Did you know that scientists have identified more than 100 gestures and vocalizations with which prairie dogs communicate with each other?). Right now the best protection I can give them is to tell them they have to offer these wonderful experiences for free. With all of the financial issues landowners face today, I would LOVE to be able to tell them they could add income to their operations by charging. I might add, these are experiences many, many people would gladly pay a fee for.

So, how can you help? By contacting members of the judiciary committee and asking them to allow this bill to the floor of the legislature for debate.

Here are the details:

Description of Legislation

LB 551 revises existing recreation liability laws, which have been the subject of significant disagreement and litigation. It provides protection from liability for landowners allowing persons on their land for recreation and tourism activities, such as hunting, fishing, birding, hiking, water sports and archeological work. It allows landowners to charge a fee for such activities, but requires notice be given of inherent risks on the land, in order for the landowner to be protected from liability.

LB 551 does not provide absolute protection against liability. Its focus is on protecting landowners from liability arising from injuries and damages caused by inherent risks of the land. It does not change ordinary standards of care the landowner has for not notifying the participant of known hazards, not maintaining equipment, or not properly training employees. Nor does it relieve the landowner or liability for acts that are grossly negligent, willfully in disregard for the safety of others, or intentional.

Synopsis of Legislation
  • LB 551 encourages landowners to grant access to their lands for recreation and tourism activities by reducing the risk of liability and cost of insurance
  • Defines “inherent risks” of such lands
  • Limits liability for injury, damage caused by inherent risks
  • Does not limit liability for
    • Particular hazards that should have been known by landowner
    • Failure to maintain equipment
    • Failure to properly train employees
    • Willful disregard for others’ safety, gross negligence or intentional conduct
  • Requires landowner, who charges a fee for access, to notify participant of inherent hazards
Who to contact?

Judiciary Committee:
  • Sen. Brad Ashford: 402.471.2622 bashford@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Ernie Chambers: 402.471.2612
  • Sen. Mark Christensen: 402.471.2805 mchristensen@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Colby Coash: 402.471.2632 ccoash@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Al Davis: 402.471.2628 adavis@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Steve Lathrop: 402.471.2623 slathrop@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Amanda McGill: 402.471.2610 amcgill@leg.ne.gov
  • Sen. Les Seiler: 402.471.2712 lseiler@leg.ne.gov
When to do it? NOW!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Perks of the Job - Burchell's White Hill Farmhouse Inn

Every year the Nebraska Tourism Commission hosts an Agri/Eco Tourism Summit in early February. This year we are gathered in Kearney to learn how we can help local entrepreneurs develop tourism in our rural communities. To kick off the conference, we had a pre-tour last night to Burchell's White Hill Farmhouse Inn.

Carole Burchell and her husband Bob Ard returned to Carole's childhood home upon their retirement as University Professors. They purchased her family farm in 2001 and returned home in 2006 to begin the transformation from a country home into a country inn. It took them a year and a month to renovate the barn into a restaurant, and just a bit longer to complete the work on the house.
They have a complete commercial kitchen in the barn and make everything from scratch, including breads and desserts. The dining room/reception hall can hold just over 200 people, slightly less than the capacity they were hoping for. They host all kinds of events, from weddings, rehearsal dinners, reunions, farm meetings and quilting retreats to funeral dinners (The historic White Hill Cemetery is just down the road). 

Their restaurant also has regular hours, though I'm not sure what those are. In addition to the homemade breads and desserts, they try as much as possible to feature locally-grown foods. The house specialty is Bob's smoked BBQ.
We were treated to the stuffed potato, delicious broccoli slaw, and of course, Bob's famous homemade rolls.

One of the things that has led to the success of the venture is the partnerships they have developed. Gene Hunt, who has been the Superintendent of Fort Kearney since 1982, has helped them with their native garden that features Native American seeds from the Pawnee.
Each year they partner with the tribe to exchange and plant seeds to keep the native foods viable.
Their goal is to honor the history of the land, both the Burchell family, as well as the native inhabitants that far predate the American westward migration and early pioneers.

Other of the important partnerships they have created included local wineries, artists and craftspeople (Yes, they plan to include local craft beer in the future!!!!). Local artist Sally Jurgensmier (The Woman of Steel!) shared her art with us after dinner, and Cedar Hills Vineyard hosted a wine tasting.
They characterize themselves as "Earth Friendly," though not "Green." They installed super insulation and efficient windows in the barn, and an open-loop geothermal heat pump system. While I don't pretend to understand what all this means, we were told that the system is so powerful and efficient that they have yet to need to turn on the emergency heat. One of the benefits is that the water used in the system is recycled into this picturesque farm pond.
Of course, the cornerstone of the operation is the Bed and Breakfast. The original part of the home was built in 1886, with a later addition in 1917. When Bob and Carole returned, they added on their living quarters and renovated the early parts into the Bed and Breakfast, keeping as many of the architectural elements as possible. Each bedroom has its own bathroom and individual heating system. To avoid the cost of an expensive sprinkler system, each bedroom also has its own outdoor entrance, onto a beautiful porch or balcony - an added plus!

While we didn't get to stay there, we can imagine that their hospitality is second-to-none! They are both such warm and inviting people, I wouldn't hesitate to recommend a stay with them.


One of their busiest times of the year is right around the corner - the arrival of the Sandhill Cranes on their annual migration.

Carole and Bob faced many challenges, not the least was starting a new business at the very beginning of a severe recession. In some ways, it's like Nebraska really doesn't want rural businesses to survive. For example, another of the challenges they faced was a restriction on signage on rural roads and highways. Their only sign off of Highway 10 (the link off of Interstate 80), is only 2' x 2', and can't say anything about a business, only indicate a farm. Now I'm all for rural beautification, but that is pretty ridiculous. Another issue is that local health officials (who knows, it could be a state or federal regulation) restricts the use of local products. Carole can use local farm fresh eggs in the Bed and Breakfast, but Bob can't use them in the restaurant. Now, just who do you suppose that regulation protects - the consumer or perhaps corporate factory farmed egg producers?

Enough of my soap box! We had a great time and would return in a heartbeat. I hope you consider a visit to Burchell's White HIll Farmhouse Inn in the near future.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Incompatible Goals

I have set for myself a number of goals that are proving to be incompatible.

First, now that I have had the final surgery on my foot and can walk with a minimum of pain, I have vowed to lose these extra pounds I have put on over the past year of inactivity.

I also want to get into better shape and be healthier. Sitting is the new smoking, you know! I do my best to get up every few minutes and walk around.

But, I've also vowed to post more regularly to my blog more often, AND, my daughter has gotten me hooked on genealogy! The good news is, I have tracked down those elusive Irish ancestors of mine. The bad news, talk about time consuming! I find myself sitting for longer at a time than I have ever done!

My other goals are to have more adventures, which is getting off to a slow start, and to be more a prolific photographer, which this cold weather hasn't helped any!

So, bear with me, as I figure out how to balance all of these incompatible goals.

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