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Denton Community
Historical Society

Tales & Trails


Isabel Catherine Sullivan Soucie

Sept. 2008 
Written by Catherine Y Sullivan

My mom, Isabel Catherine Sullivan was born on March 11, 1909 on a farm 1 mile east and 2 and 1/2 miles south of Denton, Nebraska. Isabel (mom’s) parents were Catherine Enright Sullivan and Jerry E Sullivan. Isabel had eight brothers and sisters. 5 girls and 4 boys. In mom's own words, this is the story of how her grandfather came to America.

"Murty Sullivan, my grandfather, was born in County Cork, Ireland in 1841. His parents were Eugene and Mary Sullivan. Murty was the oldest of 3 children. Our Family history informs us that when Murty was about 17 years of age his mother passed away. His father remarried, and subsequently there was going to be a new baby in the family. Prior to the birth of the new baby, Murty's father became ill and died. The new stepmother, realizing she would have a new baby to care for by herself, advised Murty and his younger brother and sister, Eugene and Hannah that they would have to get out of the house and fare for themselves. So with no home, no education, and very little money, if any at all, they decided to immigrate to America. 

They arrived in Massachusetts, where Murty got a job in a button factory. He also got a job for his brother, Eugene, sweeping floors there; they put their sister Hannah in a school. When she learned to read and write she taught her older brothers to do the same. The story is that since Murt could only pronounce his name, but could not spell it, the immigration officer had to guess how to spell it. From Massachusetts, after working there for about 4 years, they moved to Michigan. 

They worked in the coalmines in Calumet, Michigan. Murty married Mary Lowney in Michigan. Six children were born in Michigan, namely, Mary Gertrude, Eugene. Nellie. Anna, John (Jack), and Jerry E. From Michigan they moved to the Highland precinct. Lancaster County. Four more children were born in Nebraska: Murty Patrick, Katherine (Kate), Elizabeth, and Margaret. The mother (Mary Lowney) died at age 53. Jerry E. my father, married Katherine Enright, and they had 9 children: Frank E., Elizabeth, Isabel, Eleanor, Jerry Jr. (Elmer), Verna, Rita, Andrew, and Bernard." 

"Entertainment for the most part, back in my day, ( and I might add, it still works today) was the "pitch game." After Mass on Sunday, many of the families gathered at someone's home and had dinner together. Usually, the older children had to stay home and do the chores and baby-sit the little ones. Then during the afternoon and evening they played "pitch." If there were 7 or 8 players they played "race-horse." But no matter the number, 8 or less, they played pitch. Competition was keen because they usually played "a nickel a corner and a nickel a set." The slogan was; Set the bidder and keep the high man down. I remember my dad telling me that his dad and his Uncle Eugene, and he and his brother Pat, played all night one night, and they were still playing when they saw the school teacher walking down the road to school. Many decks of cards were worn out, and many torn up over the years--many arguments and fights took place. But they were always ready to forgive and forget when it was time for another game." 

Mom played her beloved game of pitch, down at the Denton Legion hall every Wednesday night and everyone wanted her for a partner, because she is was a good player and “wasn’t afraid to bid."

One of the stories mom loved to tell, and is quite impressive is the night her dad spent in the schoolhouse during the famous blizzard of 1888. Mom has recorded all the data for that and it is now with the Denton Historical Society.

Mom attended grade school at district 66 about 1 and 1/2 mile north of her parent's farm and graduated from high school at Denton, Nebraska, in 1926. Mom's transportation to and from high school was a horse and buggy, which she drove. She told how she would unhitch the horse, feed it, and leaves it at the Denton Livery Stable. Then at night, after school, you would find Bell hitching up the “nag” (horse) again and be on her way home. Mother attended Business College in Lincoln, Nebraska and lived with her Grandmother Enright while attending Business College.

Mom worked for Otis Elevator in Lincoln for many years, until she got married.

Mom, (Isabel), married Oreall V. Soucie January 25, 1934. Dad was a salesman for Standard Brands foods in Lincoln, Nebraska at the time they were married. Mom always said she got the good looking Frenchman, and he was. Mom and Dad moved to Uncle Pat's farm in 1945. The original Catholic Church that was used in my grandparent's day, then known as the “Sullivan Settlement” was across the road from Uncle Pat’s Place. In later years, a new church was built in Denton, and the old church was moved to Uncle Pat's place and used as a barn for many years. It was later destroyed in a fire.

There was another barn and we used to go up in the loft and watch the coyote hunt from the loft windows. It burned down after we moved from there. Grandpa gave Dad and Mom a milk cow, and Dad quit his job for Standard Brands, and went to farming. I remember one summer Dad got a good bargain on peaches and so mom canned peaches all summer. That winter the joke was, we lived on peaches and salt pork all winter. To this union, 6 children were born Rita, Eugene, Catherine, Richard, Billy and Clement. 

In 1946 mom and dad moved to Seward County, just 1/2 mile west of highway 103 on West Denton Road. There mom had no plumbing, no electricity, cooked on a wood cook stove, mud roads like you can't believe and no telephone. Mother always said we don't have a lot, but neither does anybody else. Those were hard times, and all the neighbors helped each other. Lots of mother-daughter talks took place out in the old "2 holer" or as some might say, the old shanty. 

Mother always had a big garden, chickens, and plenty of milk. We dressed chickens and sold them for $1.00 each. Mom and Dad always seemed to have a house full of city relatives on the weekends, and she loved it and fed them all. She always found extra eggs, bread and cream to send home with them on Sunday afternoon. There was never a more kind, thoughtful, and understanding and caring person, as mother, during the hard times.

One of the many things that happened when we lived in Seward County, was that terrible blizzard of 1949. The thing that made it so bad was there was about a 4" layer of ice that came before the snow. Myself, ( Catherine) and and my brother Richard were out sleigh riding. I was about 11 and Richard was about 7 or 8. I was laying flat on the sled and he was lying on top of me, hanging on for dear life. I couldn't steer it for the ice and went sliding under and old wagon. A bolt was down low enough, on the axel, that it caught the top of Richard's head and cut it wide open. I came carrying him to the house, crying, slipping and falling on the ice, and of course Richard was about unconscious. 

Dad and mom wrapped towels around his head, and started out for Crete, where the nearest doctor was. It normally would take up about 1/2 hour to get there, but it was 2 hours going and then some, because of the condition of the road. I am sure God was with them during that time, and I know I prayed the whole time. I sometimes wonder now, how they made it there and back. They brought Richard home that night, and everything healed fine. The Doctor at that time, was Doctor Huber, from Crete. In those days, they made house calls, as he did the time my dad caught pneumonia, and was in bed for several days. Mom and I had walked over to mom’s sisters place about ˝ mile west, Emil and Verna Vaverka. It stormed real badly after we got there, so we had to stay over night. We walked home the next day, mud up to our knees, and that is when we found Dad sick in bed. We about lost him. Thanks to the good country Doctor, he came out fine.

Another time, Mom took milk down to the cave to keep it cool. With no refrigeration, that is the way we kept everything cold. Mom couldn't get the lower door shut tight, lacked about 4 inches. When Mom looked up, there was a bull snake hanging above her head, of course in the door. She ran out fast, and Dad was mowing in the alfalfa field close to the house. He came and got it, and put it down a gopher hole in the alfalfa field. 

Of course there was the time the two goofy boys, Richard and Billy smelled the gas in one of Dads old cars. By the time we found them, they were pretty high. Mom walked them up and down the long drive way quite a few times, because we couldn't let them go to sleep. After about 1 hour they started to come around, but it took 3 days to get the smell of old gas out of their breath. They survived that too. Of course the cows were always getting out at night, especially in a rainstorm. I remember one night in particular; we were all out chasing them. They had broken through a gate during a lighting and thunderstorm. I remember Dad went and got the old truck and parked it in the gate and said he would fix the “damn gate” thing in the morning.

The year of 1949 brought good things to us in the rural area. The REA (Rural Electric Association) introduced electricity to folks out in the furthest of rural areas, and that year Dad and Uncle Ray Durbin wired the house for electricity. What a wonderful change it was for all of us, and mom did get an electric Maytag washer shortly after that. Prior to that, she used a gas engine one, and many a time she had to go get dad out of the field to start it. Mother always said we all had the fondest of memories over in the hills, and it was her that made it happen. 

In 1952 they moved over to a farm near Martell, Nebr. Dad had bought some milk cows at the sale, and left them at that farm, as we would be moving soon. Well it was Thanksgiving when a terrible storm hit. Dad was determined he was going to feed those cows, so he left in the old jeep and got as far as our mother’s parent’s place, Jerry and Kate Sullivan, east of Denton. From there he took one of my Grandpas horses and went on horseback. The phone lines were down, so it was about 3 days before Mom found out that he made it and was ok. We got our first television in 1952, and daughter Rita bought it for us. She was the first one out of the nest and working. We stayed up half the night watching television, as though there would not be any the next day. Gunsmoke on Saturday night was the highlight of the week.

From there Mom and Dad moved back to Denton, just 1 and 1/2 mile west of Denton, on West Denton Road. Mom and Dad lived there till they built their home in Denton, and there is where Mom remained. Mother lost Dad to cancer in April of 1971. Everybody loved “Souce” as he was known as, and we all missed him very much.

Mother worked as janitor for the grade school in Denton, until it closed and consolidated with Crete. She also wrote the Denton News for the Crete News for 25 years. She kept every article, I do believe. Those books of articles are now with the Denton Community Historical Society. She served as a postal assistant at the Denton Post Office for 10 years.

Mother worked as Clerk for the town board for 12 years, and was responsible for getting the health nurse to come to the Denton community. She was responsible for picking up and distributing the commodities in the Denton Community, through the LAP program. She had many helpers in the Denton area to help her pick up the commodities. 

Mom was active in Saint Mary’s Catholic Church and Altar Society, and had been all her life. One of her main project while she was active in the Altar Society was the sewing she did for the missions. Her project was to make hospital gowns out of men’s old white shirts, and lap robes and crib quilts. Another project was to roll bandages for the missions. They would take old sheets that were donated and tear them into strips, and roll like tape. She did that project for 25 years. They rolled so many bandages they were known as the "Holy Rollers." They rolled bandages until mother found out the missions were sewing the bandages back together again to make sheets. That’s when she said enough is enough. 

Mother taught CCD down at Saint Mary's Catholic church in Denton for 20 years, and many of those years was spent teaching her own grandchildren, which I might add, she showed no partiality to any of them, and they were taught very well, as only mother would do. 

Mother worked with Crete Deanery for many years and was active both as an officer and member. She was also a member of the Diocesan Council of Catholics and held an office many times.

Mom has been to both Ireland and Rome, and I am sure Ireland was one of the highlights of her lifetime. She has taken many nice trips in her lifetime, all the way from the West Coast to the East Coast, and enjoyed every one of them. The bus trip to California in 1976 with her daughter Cathy holds some very special and interesting memories as it was quite a trip. Needless to say, we flew home.

Mom has been active all her 90 years, and has been blessed with good health. The ways she kept active were playing pitch every Wednesday night at the Legion Club, and bingo on Sunday afternoons. One of the neat things about activities at the Legion Club is the Legion Club used to be located on the ground where Mom and Dad built their house.

It was moved downtown in the 1950's. That same Legion Club is where mom and dad had their wedding dance, when it was located where Mom’s house now stands. Mom read a lot, and enjoyed her sports on television. Mom has one son son Bill, living in California, and he was able to get back often to see her. Her son, Gene, lives in Seward, Nebraska. Rita, Catherine, and Kim all live in the Denton area, and son Richard lives in Lincoln. 

Mother was always the "Hub of the Wheel" and has always been there for us. She has always been there for a lot of people, and has been a good friend, neighbor to so many. She has made many friends over the years. Mom suffered from a stroke in February of 2001, and could not return to her home. She was cared for at Lancaster Manor in Lincoln. Her daughter, Rita, worked there also, and took very good care of her. Mom passed away Dec. 8, 2006. 

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