Thursday, April 23, 2009

on the 97th anniversary of dad's birth

Hugh Benjamin Russell age 1

Hugh Benjamin Russell, about 1 year old.

Hugh and Wayne Russell

Brothers Hugh and Wayne Russell, about 1918.

1920s Hugh Russell with friends

Probably taken in the 1920s at Antelope school playground. Dad in a tree with his friends.

1937 Hugh Russell with his 1931 Chevy Sports Roadster, light green

1937, Hugh Russell with his light green 1931 Chevy Sports Roadster.


Hugh Benjamin Russell was born in the Antelope Community southwest of Sargent, Custer County, Nebraska, on 23 April 1912. His mother, Della (West) Patch was the widow of Louis Patch. They had five children: Earl, Lola, Glen, Ralph and Eunice. Louis died on November 20, 19071.

Ben had a small stock farm and also did work for neighbors. He worked as a hired hand for Della. Della and Ben were married on 4 Aug 19112 in Broken Bow. Dad was the oldest Russell, followed by Wayne, Irene and Violet.

As many farm kids did, dad helped with chores from a very early age. One of his chores when he was about five was to bring in the cows at night. He hated the job because it involved going into a canyon and getting the cows out of the plum thickets. On a moonless evening as the sun set, it was very dark and he would be scared. His older half-brothers were happy to tell him ghost stories which added to his fear.

Dad graduated from the eighth grade at the Antelope community school. He planned to attend high school at Round Valley, and in fact started two separate years. However, because his mother depended on his work on their farm and his income from working out for the neighbors, he had to quit both times and he never went back.

Dad's relationship with his father was not an easy one. Their father, as dad used to say, was a poor provider. At some point in dad’s childhood, Ben moved into his own house, or perhaps back into the house he lived in before he and Della were married. Dad remembered that he would come for Sunday dinner, when his mother would kill a chicken and bake a rhubarb or mulberry pie. That would be the only meat they had all week. They mostly ate potatoes...boiled potatoes, dad said. Dad and his sister Violet recalled the time Della ask Ben for money as he was leaving after eating Sunday dinner. “I need money to feed and clothe these kids,” she said. Ben got on his horse and laughed and rode off. His response to Violet and Irene’s desire to go to high school was, “they’ll do it without any help from me!” And they did. With help from their brother. I’m not sure if Round Valley High School closed about this time or not, but Irene and Violet went to high school in Sargent. They were two years apart in age, but Irene waited two years so they could go together. Dad drove them to their boarding rooms on Sunday evenings and picked them up on Friday evenings.

Whenever Della had work that need done, she expected dad to do it. When he asked why the older boys didn’t do the work, she said they didn’t have to, someday they would “inherit land”.

Dad stayed on the home place and helped his mother until he was in his late 20s or early 30s. Then he moved to the place we knew as the Lakeman place, about five miles west of Sargent, along the "River Road" south of the Middle Loup River. He planted corn and put up alfalfa and prairie hay to feed a growing herd of cattle.

1.Obituary of Della West Patch Russell, Sargent Leader, Sargent, Nebraska .
2. Marriage License, Custer County Courthouse, Broken Bow, Nebraska

If you have any questions or something to say about this post, please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!


  1. I love the picture of your dad and the other kids in the tree. The countryside in these pictures reminds me of the area where my mother grew up in Baylor County, Texas - sort of wide open with scrubby looking trees.

  2. Thanks for your comment. That picture is one of my favorites. Dad was a very serious, hard-working man by the time I came along. This reminds me he was a kid once and had fun with this friends!

  3. Actually, Irene did not wait two years for Violet to join her in high school. Violet had skipped two grades when she was at Antelope School, so they finished 8th grade together. What I have always found incredible about this story is that when they graduated from Sargent High School in 1937, they both had completed the Normal Training Course and were able to start teaching in country schools! Irene was 18, turning 19 in September. Violet had her 17th birthday in August. One other comment: Round Valley still had a high school when Irene and Violet were in school, but it was only a two-year school.