Chapter 1: A Rough start but Lady Luck met us at the hospital

It was a nasty day with lots of snow, but Mom and Dad made it to the Norfolk hospital where I got off to a rough start. They drove in from a small farm eight miles northwest of Newman Grove, NE, that is approximately 50 miles west of Norfolk. It was March 1, 1937. That’s where I first met “Lady Luck” who has been my frequent companion ever since.

The doctor told my parents I wouldn’t last the day, and they should baptize and name me immediately. Thus I received my dad’s name, Kenneth, with a Jr. added, and I officially became a Lutheran at a very young age. Both mother and I had septicemia, and I also had diphtheria. Nonetheless, thanks to the Lord and Lady Luck we survived—and as they say, “the rest is history.”

The twin disasters of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl made for lots of poor people, but none of us kids knew the difference because we were all poor. My early years were great, and as an only child of loving parents and the only small boy of a neighborhood of loving families, I wasn’t pampered, however, I was “borderline” spoiled and received lots of attention. I loved it. My 20 years of education (elementary through grad school) interspersed with a variety of jobs was the beginning of an exciting and improbable journey.

Our closest neighbor was Dad’s brother and his son, Loren, who is five years older than I, and later his sister, Marlys, who is four years younger. During that time, Marlys sometimes lived with my folks since their mother was in a tuberculosis sanatorium. Loren was the only neighbor kid I had to chum around with, and his main interest was cars and tractors. Mine was dogs, horses and cattle—they were my main companions until I started country school.

My dog, Pooch, loved and protected me, but he disliked the rest of the world and that got us both in trouble. All this “came to a head” one day when mother wanted me to come into the house and I ignored her which was a bad decision for everyone concerned. She started pulling me into the house, the dog bit her and chased her around the house and she “tore up” her knee. I remember telling Pooch, “I think we’re both in a lot of trouble when Dad comes home”—and we were.

I got a whipping and Pooch got shot. That was my first lesson that bad behavior can result in bad consequences. I was sad and mad at the world until we got a new dog. However, I still remember Pooch, my first best friend.

When I was three or four years old, another event I remember vividly was an afternoon rainstorm when mother was sitting near the window sewing. Lightning struck the house, started a fire, and knocked mother off her chair and unconscious for a short time. I remember the lightning streaking across the floor and seeing my mother lying there and thinking my world had changed. Fortunately, she regained consciousness, we got the fire out and life went on.

My favorite horse was named Nig, and I didn’t know why. It seemed everybody with black horses often had one named Nig. In 1942 just after World War II had started, the Army would send people out to pick up any scrap iron we were able to collect. My mother woke me up around 6 a.m/ one summer morning and said “Come quick, I want you to see something.” Two Negro soldiers came to pick up our scrap iron, and they were the first Negroes I had ever seen. I began to figure out why our black horse was called Nig, but I doubt anyone else gave it a thought.

Another memory of this time was Loren and I taking lunch to our folks in the hayfield. Loren was nine years old, and he was driving his dad’s ’35 Chevy. We got it up to 60 mph going across the hay field and I thought, “Wow, I’ll never go this fast again.” I was wrong because around 1950 or 1951 Loren was driving a 1950 Ford and we got it up to 100 mph one night. Years later, if Caroline was driving in the country and was in a hurry 120 mph became the new benchmark.