Nebraska’s Hazelle Finney, 101 years and counting
for Tri-State Livestock News
Psalms 90:10, “The days of our years are threescore years and ten: and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years…” Hazelle Finney a longtime resident of Mullen, Neb. must be incredibly strong. On May 18, she celebrated her 101st birthday.
“I remember going with my parents to get fruit from Jules Sandoz’s orchard. Jules was in the yard and insisted we eat dinner with his family.” Hazelle Finney says as she reflects on her childhood growing up on a homestead in the Nebraska Sandhills south of Rushville.
Hazelle’s maternal grandfather, Paul Nicolet, was a friend of Jules Sandoz in Switzerland, and after Jules wrote and told him about America, Paul emigrated in 1884. Leaving behind his wife and three young daughters, Paul worked and saved to buy their passage, but his wife and one daughter died before they could emigrate. His surviving daughters, Pauline and Constance, arrived in 1892 to join a father they couldn’t remember. Accompanying them were their grandfather and a young lady chaperone. They lived on a homestead near Hay Springs, Neb., and Paul soon married their chaperone.
Hazelle’s father, Fred Beguin, emigrated with his parents from Switzerland to join his older brother Ernest in Rushville, Neb. Fred met Pauline Nicolet when she was 13 and that was the start of their friendship. Three years later Pauline went to work for the Joy Ranch, cooking and helping with the kids. The hired men teased her about Fred saying, “You don’t want to marry that old Frenchman, he will work you to death.”
But she didn’t listen and married Fred on Jan. 23, 1902. They filed on adjoining homesteads and set about raising cattle and children. They had 10 children, seven of which survived to adulthood. Fred and Pauline had almost 39 years together. Pauline kept herself busy, and during World War 1 she knit 39 sweaters and was given a medal for her contributions to the war effort.
“Mom could read two books and knit a sweater in a day,” Hazelle remembers.
Hazelle was born on May 18, 1916 on her parents’ homestead south of Rushville, Neb., the sixth living child and the first to be born in the new frame house that replaced the soddy. She spent every moment she could outside with her two older brothers. They taught her to milk the cows and ride horseback, and by eight she was driving the stacker team during haying. Hazelle went to country school through ninth grade; her sophomore and junior years were spent at the Chadron College Prep School, since her older brother and sister were enrolled in college in Chadron, Neb.
Hazelle graduated in 1934 from Rushville High School and times were tough. Fred asked her to stay home and help her mother for a year before starting college. Hazelle did and then completed her first year which was followed by three years of teaching school to save money for college. She worked, saved and worked some more, taking eight years to finally graduate in 1942 with a Bachelor of Science Degree.
In 1941, Hazelle and her mother traveled to Thedford, Neb., to visit sister Florence and husband Stanley. During their visit company came for dinner, including a young bachelor Hubert Finney. The visit was prolonged and when Hazelle could see that everyone was going to stay for supper, too, she asked Florence for a pair of overalls so she could help milk the cows. The entire time Hazelle was milking, Hubert stood in the door and watched her work.
“It made me so mad, that he wouldn’t help,” Hazelle recalls.
Hubert said afterwards that “I knew right then that was the gal I should marry.” He was born May 3, 1908, in York County, Neb., and was ranching north of Seneca, Neb.
A few months later Hazelle heard Hubert had broken his leg. She waited a few months before writing to him.
“I wasn’t involved with anyone, so I wrote him,” she said. “He wrote back after a few months. He thought he better get ahold of me and I thought the same thing.”
The couple were married Aug. 17, 1942, in Chadron. Hubert was 34 and Hazelle was 26. He had a new car and the couple spent 10 days touring Yellowstone National Park and driving clear into Washington State. Upon the couple’s return a man on the local draft board declared that “if Hubert had time for a honeymoon he had time for the army.” So within a week after returning from their honeymoon Hubert was drafted into the army and spent three and a half years in the service, suffering shrapnel wounds to both legs during the Battle of the Bulge. Hazelle spent the war years teaching school in the winters and helping her brothers put up hay in the summers.
“Hubert had some calves a friend agreed to take care of when he left for the army and when he got back, John still had the cattle. We started driving them across country. I was in an old car and it was springtime and the cows were calving. By the time we got to Bob Finney’s place the car was full of calves that couldn’t go on. We leased a ranch south of Seneca, Neb., purchasing it a few years later from a widow who wanted to help a ‘deserving service man.’ I taught school, riding a horse back and forth. If it was -5 or colder we didn’t have school. My first check for teaching, Hubert used to buy tools for the ranch. I taught school for eight years and never made more than $200 a month.”
Hazelle helped with the milking when she could and her cream check bought the groceries; she gardened and helped Hubert whenever needed. “The blizzards of 1949 were hard, but with cream and eggs we had enough to eat.”
Two sons were born to the Finney’s: Mike and Joe, who were raised on the ranch and graduated from Kansas State University. Hubert and Hazelle worked hard to improve the place and eventually added more land, cattle and installed two pivots for irrigation, Mike has taken over the ranch and Joe is still involved in agriculture, as well. Hazelle was an accomplished seamstress and an avid reader, to this day reads newspapers and books. Hazelle is still remembered for her fabulous branding dinners and hosting parties at her home. She loved to garden and her home was surrounded by flowerbeds. She served on numerous boards and community historical projects. After 62 years of marriage, Hubert passed away in 2004. And in 2009 following surgery, Hazelle moved to a care center in Mullen, Neb. Last year on her 100th birthday she was rushed to Lincoln, Neb., for emergency gall bladder surgery. Some thought she wouldn’t return but within a short time she was back in her room, reading, visiting with friends and family and enjoying the beauty of her African violet.
“I’ve had a good life, but I haven’t had an easy life,” she said. F
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