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Denton Community
Historical Society

Tales & Trails


Ruth Rosekrans Hoffman
A renowned Lancaster County artist

This article is taken from the June 2001 Tales & Trails
By Sue Williams, DCHS Member

Ruth Rosekrans Hoffman is a Nebraska native whose art work was influenced by her childhood in Denton.  Her parents were James Charles and Pearl Hocking Rosekrans.  James Charles and Pearl Hocking were married November 24, 1921 in the Denton Methodist Church.  They spent the first night of their marriage at the Denton Hotel.

James Charles Rosekrans was the son of Orville D. and Margaret Madigan Rosekrans.  Orville Rosekrans was born March 14, 1860  in Gloversville, New York.  At 16, he came by train to Lincoln.  Several years later while working as a cook and later as a purchasing agent for the food supplies at the Arlington Hotel, he met Margaret Madigan. She a born December 23, 1858.  Margaret was from Weston, Nebraska.  After they were married, they were  cooks on a boarding train for Burlington Workers.  In 1898 they moved to the Denton area and began farming.  They had seven children, Grover, who died in infancy; Fred; Mary (Mrs. Mooney); Irene (Mrs. Enright) Margaret (Mrs. Paul Sullivan); Orville B.; and James C.  All of the children attended Denton School.  Orville D. died August 2, 1927 and Margaret died when she was 82 years old on February 2, 1941.  Both are buried at Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Pearl was the daughter of John Francis and Clara Littler Hocking.  John was born September 25, 1869 in North Adams, Massachusetts. Clara was born in 1879. They were married in 1901 and moved to Denton in 1906.  They had six children; Pearl (Mrs. J.C. Rosekrans; Bertha (Mrs. Charles Miller; Earl; Ethel (Mrs. Ray Giles; LaVone (Mrs. Harold Bauer, and Elmo, who died in infancy.  John was a carpenter.  Most of the older homes in the Denton community were erected by John and his two brothers, Walter and Frank.  John died in 1944 and Clara died in 1966.  Both are buried at Sunnyside Cemetery in Denton.

James and Pearl had two children, both born at home.  James Merlin was born April 17, 1923 and Ruth Olive was born January 7, 1926.  At that time the village of Denton had a population of 80.  James was a general contractor and a "jack of all trades". He could do anything.  He belonged to the  Blue River Lodge #30,  AF and AM, and OES #132.  Pearl loved to sew. She was a seamstress who had a special gift with a needle.  She made  beautiful dresses for brides and bridesmaids for the university students and many of the girls who lived in nearby villages.  She could take several patterns and use parts of each and come up with her own design. She along with other ladies from the Denton Methodist Church spent hours making fantastic costumes for presenting programs for Christmas, Children's Day, Mother's Day, etc.  Pearl taught Sunday School for many years and was also Ladies Aid treasurer for 40 years.  James C. died January 3, 1982 and Pearl died December 7, 1977. They are buried at Sunnyside Cemetery in Denton.

Ruth has many memories of her childhood in Denton.  Ruth said their post office box was # 33. The train came through around 6:p.m.  Mr. Olson would go to the Denton Depot, get the mail and take it to the post office.  After he got the mail in the boxes, the village folks would come to get their mail and stand around and visit.

Her mother earned money by boarding school teachers and men who were Burlington Railroad Depot Relief Agents. Ruth said her parents always kept their door open.  Ruth recalls the bums frequently came to the door for food.  The family raised a garden and her father would butcher a beef.  So her mother had food available and was willing to feed the bums.  Ruth remembers the Denton fire of January 27, 1930.  She  said the family was standing at the upstairs bedroom watching the yellow flames from the fire..  Their home was far enough from the fire that they didn't have to take their furniture out of the house and put it in the snow bank to save it from burning as many of the town folks were doing.

Ruth recalls Mr. Eldon Flickinger, the Agent-Operator for the Denton Depot.  The Burlington Railroad trains stopped at Denton.  She thought the Flickingers were "well to do".  Mr. Flickinger had a steady job and a monthly income.  Ruth's father didn't have a steady job.  It was during the depression and he took whatever job he could find.  Money was scarce in their home.  Ruth enjoyed sitting in the yard in back of the Denton Depot with Irma Flickinger.  They were good friends and enjoyed talking.   Mrs. Frances Flickinger had lovely moon flowers growing by the rocks.  Ruth stated that the moon flowers looked like large blue morning glories.

During the Dust Bowl in the early 1930's, red dust was blowing up from Oklahoma.  Dust came in through the windows and dust would be on the window sills.  The dust was so thick, it was hard to breathe.  Pearl Rosekrans would put a wet towel over Ruth and Merlin's faces to filter the air.

The Rosekrans family attended the Denton Methodist church.  Ruth recalls attending Sunday School in the basement.  One morning when cutting out little pictures of Jesus, she later discovered she had cut holes in her yellow dress.  She still has memories of Mrs. Frances Flickinger, the music teacher, who endured Ruth singing off key.

Ruth's first seven years of her life were gay and carefree.  During the late summer of 1933, young Ruth developed osteomyelitis, a bone infection that , in the days before penicillin (which became widely available in the 1940's) was only treatable by surgically draining the infection from the bone.  She was in the cast so the infection could drain.  At the time most people died from the disease.  The disease "eventually burned itself out".  She spent 18 months in a body cast (from armpit to toes) and months more in partial casts.

The experience she said, "gave me a new perspective on life.  While in bed in the body cast horizontal, I saw things I wouldn't ordinarily see.  I wasn't like a child looking up, but more like a part of the land.  From my prone position, I used to eye my food like an explorer surveying the horizon.  Piles of mashed potatoes took on the proportions of mountains against the skyline.  Undersides of chins, nostrils, palms jumped out at me. I studied expressions, the details of wallpaper, and tiny hairs peeking out of people's ears".

Ruth's family always helped her.  Merlin would read to her.  Grandfather John Hocking made Ruth a doll house that she could play with while she was laying in bed in her body cast.  The family of dolls and the furniture were ordered from a catalog.  Her doll house had a bathroom whereas the Rosekrans home didn't have one in their home.  Ruth described her doll house as a secret and safe place to go.  Ruth still has one of the dolls and the doll house is in safe keeping.

Ruth was about three or four years old when she stated doing pencil drawings.  So it was only natural that while she was spending so many hours in bed that she drew pictures.  "when you have something like that, " she states "putting pencil to paper can save you from almost everything".  During the years when her world stood still, she unknowingly began to develop her artistic ability.  She began copying the comic strips "Tillie the Toiler" "Dick Tracy" "Mutt and Jeff," and "Popeye" from the Lincoln Star newspaper.

"Good things can happen from really bad things although you may not know it at the time," she said.  Ruth recalls watching a red sunset between her toes as she lay flat on her back in a full body cast during her childhood.  Her relatives were very kind to her during this time.  Her Aunt Ethel Giles would take Ruth to her house.  She remembers Aunt Ethel making Jell-O.  Ruth's job was to stir the Jell-O in the hot water. 

Partial casts followed and then she was able to use a wheelchair.  Ruth especially remembers Clegg's Hill.  Her brother, Merlin, would push her wheelchair to the top of the hill.  Then Merlin would stand on the back of the wheelchair as they went coasting down the hill toward the Depot.   Merlin and Ruth loved this.  This continued until one of the neighbors reported the event to their mother.  Pearl put a stop to this fun immediately.  The other children included Ruth in their activities when possible.  They let her play ball with them.  They would stand her up, and she would hit the ball.  Then another child would run the bases for her.  The neighborhood children would also come and visit her at home.

Her father built devices for her to assist her "walking".  There were pulleys and weights, and a device to help her into the Model A, so that she could join in the family ride to the ice cream store.  Ruth still recalls today always ordering strawberry ice cream.

Ruth attended Denton School District 136 which had two rooms, a cloak room and a hall.  The school was located across the street from the Denton Hotel.  Miss O'Neil, and Miss Field were two of her grade school teachers.  When Ruth was unable to attend school due to her health, Miss Annabell Peshek came to her home and tutored her every day.  Miss Peshek did this for a year or more and didn't get paid.  Miss Peshek called her "Ruthie" and she was more than willing to work without pay.  Because they weren't in school, Ruth called her teacher Annabell instead of Miss Peshek.  The next year Merlin and friends pushed Ruth to school in her wheelchair.  When Ruth came to school she still called her teacher Annabell.  Annabell can still remember Ruth saying,  "Hey, Annabell, how do you do this?"  "The other students couldn't understand why Ruth could call me Annabell and they had to call me Miss Peshek".  Ruth attended Denton High School and graduated in 1945.  Gordon Wilson was one of her teachers.

The courage Ruth mustered in her personal battle reflects the family's fortitude in surviving the Depression. She went from a body cast, to partial cast, to wheelchair, to crutches and finally a walking stick.  The effects were long lasting.  Throughout her life she needed the assistance of a walking stick. Ruth called the cane "stick" for good humor.

NOTE:  The article in Tales and Trails continues with Ruth's history after she left Denton .  She married Bob Hoffmann in 1955.  She had a very successful career as a nationally known artist and writer of children's books.  Ruth passed away in September 2007 and her brother Merlin passed away in October 2012.

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