Editor’s Note: This continues a series of monthly articles celebrating pride in our town and its surroundings. If you have suggestions of people to be featured, contact The Elgin Review.
By Jane Schuchardt
Special to the Elgin Review
Q – Why live here?
A – Why not?
That’s the response from Phyllis Kinney who, until a recent move to The Willows in Neligh, has lived in the Elgin area, primarily the Park Center area west of town, who turns 95 in July. Roots run deep for her having been born and raised here. “It was all okay with me,” she said after a pensive glance out the window to monitor the wind whipping branches in a nearby tree she called her weather meter.
“Life was good here,” she said. “There was no reason to move.” Soft spoken, though firm in her conviction, she changes “was” to “is good” being sure it was known this interview took her away from afternoon bingo and social engagement with fellow residents.
Speaking of engagement, the one and only love of her life, Roland “Rollie” who died in 2011, invited her to Junior-Senior prom in 1941 at Elgin High. “He was pretty persistent,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. “I didn’t have a chance to change my mind . . . and he would be glaring at me right now for saying that.”
They married during Christmas vacation in 1946 while she was teaching country school. Sixty-four years together, she exclaimed, obviously implying she wished they had more. “In 1960, we moved to the ‘home place’ which is still home base,” she said. Roughly 10 miles west of Elgin, the house was moved three-fourths mile down the road with 30 head of horses.
Today, her three sons all live near this location and engage in farming just as generations of Kinneys before them. “My boys are the sixth generation on this farmland,” she gushed with pride. She also has a daughter that lives in the area and another daughter who died shortly after birth. There are nine grandchildren, she shared, though had to think some about the number of great grandchildren. “I’ll have to call you later on that one,” she said when she ran out of fingers for counting. Sixteen is the answer.
Kinney attended grade school at Belltower District #39, graduated in 1943 from Elgin High where she earned her teacher’s certificate, then taught four years in Districts #70 and #148. “I got along okay,” she said about her teaching experience. “I was pretty immature. It tested my ability.”
About being a farm wife, she recalls moving irrigation pipe and working with Rollie in the garden “when he wasn’t fishing.” She especially loved her flowers, red, pink and white roses in particular. As for cooking, certainly she got the family fed though admitted “I wasn’t the greatest cook in the world. Some people like to be in the kitchen; I got by,” she said recalling how her family does love her tuna pinwheels (flattened biscuit dough rolled up with tuna, sliced, baked and topped with cheese sauce).
Kinney likely is most well known for her dedication to the Park Center Congregational United Church of Christ and nearby cemetery. Her husband’s great grandfather was a charter member in 1885. She’s served as the women’s fellowship president, the Sunday School superintendent, and the cemetery bookkeeper.
Most of all, she lights up with joy reminiscing about the Friday night socials outside the church. “The kids played, the women sold candy, popcorn and homemade ice cream, and we all talked, and talked, and talked,” she said and offered with sadness this comment — “We don’t do that anymore.”
Kinney especially enjoys recalling the history of the church and the Park Center area. Though carrying an Elgin address, at its peak this community had a school, gas station and convenience store. “I didn’t have to run into town (Elgin) for bread and potatoes,” she said.
While not familiar with the religious symbolism associated with a sand dollar, Kinney recounted her love of combing Texas beaches for them. “Rollie was fishing, his love,” she said. The couple retired from the farm and moved to Elgin in 1993. Texas was their get-away destination to escape Nebraska winters.
When asked about her legacy (and for an invitation to her 100th birthday party), she said, “Okie, dokie, let me think. Farming is a good occupation. We help feed the country.”
And one more thing, she advised, “Do the best you can with what you have wherever you’re planted.” And with one of those gotcha smiles, she added, “My sons would say, ‘oh mom’.”
“Thanks for coming,” she said, though all the thanks goes to her, a quiet, unassuming woman, definitely the matriarch of her family and one of Elgin’s, too. Thank you, Phyllis Kinney.