Ann Stevens reflects on 90 years in Northeast Neb.

HARTINGTON — When Ann Stevens was growing up she had decided she did not want to end up living in a small town.

Life doesn’t always take us down the path we plan, though.

Stevens just celebrated her 90th birthday this month and she has spent a large number of those years living in Hartington.

She has no regrets, either.

“When I was young, I thought I did not want to live in a small town. I wanted to go out and see the country,” Stevens said. “I ended up in a small town and I loved it.”

Through those 90 years, Stevens achieved a number of accomplishments and has a lot of interesting stories to tell.

Stevens volunteered with the Red Cross during World War II and she has vivid memories of the Great Depression. She knew Minnie Pearl from the Grand Ole Opry and was instrumental in organizing a Girl Scout Troop in Hartington.

Ann (Ahrens) Stevens lived in Wayne when she was growing up. Stevens and her sisters were Girl Scouts and their mother was a Girl Scout Leader.

A Girl Scout Camp had been established right outside of Wayne and the troop also made trips to a camp over by Sioux City, Iowa.

The Depression brought some hard times but her family still found some fun things to do.

“I remember how hot it was and the dust storms that came during the Depression, but we still had some good family events,” she said. “My dad could swim and we would go to the Elkhorn River and swim. We also went to a place by Dakota City. We would go up to the area where the Ponca State Park is now located. My Dad would pick wild plums and my mother made plum butter. This is a pretty part of the state.”

Through those family outings and her years as a Girl Scout, Stevens developed a love of the outdoors.

She attended elementary school and the high school that was located on the campus at the Wayne Teachers College. The facility was used as a training school for the college students that were studying to become teachers.

Stevens attended college at Wayne State and later transferred to UNL where she earned a degree in business administration.

She still remembers the morning she heard the announcement on the radio that the United States was entering World War II.

“I heard it on the radio in the morning right before I left for class. Pres. Roosevelt announced we were at war,” Stevens said. “I thought about it as I  walked to class and wondered what would happen. I was scared.”

She remembers tires and gas were rationed. She traveled back and forth from college and her home by taking the bus.

After Stevens graduated from UNL she began working for an insurance company. She ended up living in Nashville, Tenn., where she received extra training for her job.

“In Nashville, I lived in the same boarding house as Minnie Pearl. She was already appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. I knew her,” Stevens said. “Our boarding house was right across the street from Vanderbilt University.”

Stevens said she learned some things from Minnie Pearl about the hillbilly culture in Tennessee and about how blacks were treated at that time.

Stevens worked as a volunteer for the Red Cross during World War II.

She helped out in a canteen in Nashville. As one of the volunteers she would go the Railroad Station and meet the soldiers as the trains came in.

“Soldiers were traveling by train through Nashville on their way to the mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky for maneuvers where they learned how to fight. We would get them coffee and hand them a little box with a few cigarettes in it,” Stevens said. “I was closer to what was going on with the war when I worked for the Red Cross.”

Stevens also lived in Philadelphia before making her way back home to Wayne where she worked at the Wayne County Courthouse for the Welfare Dept. Later, she accepted a job as Director of the Welfare Dept. at Cedar County. After she made the move to Hartington, she met her future husband, Ed Stevens, who was the Cedar County Clerk.

The couple married and had a family. This allowed Ann to get involved in Girl Scouts once again as she wanted to see an active Girl Scout troop in Hartington.

“I had three girls. I knew there would be a lot of fun things that we could do. I  loved the Brooky Bottom area. Ed and I enjoyed going there for picnics – especially in the spring and the fall,” she said.

Stevens made contact with the National Girl Scout Headquarters. It wasn’t long before she received a call.

“I was so surprised. The lady that called knew me. She was from Wayne – it was someone I knew,” Stevens said. “She helped us organize a troop.”

She was able to use some of the knowledge she had learned as a Girl Scout and put some of her experiences to good use as a Girl Scout Leader.

“We would have outings up at Brooky Bottom around the same time as Mother’s Day,” Stevens said. “We learned about wild flowers. I could identify every one – my mother taught me about wild flowers.”

Later on, the Hartington Girl Scouts became part of a “cluster of troops.”

“We became part of a bigger organization,” Stevens said. “I enjoyed all of the people I met. I made good friends in the neighborhood group which included  Coleridge, Wausa, Crofton, Ponca, Creighton and others.”

Stevens helped organize a week-long Day Camp that was held every summer. The Girl Scouts camped out one night and cooked over a campfire.

Stevens became very involved with the Girls Scouts and served on the Northeast Council for Girls Scouts.

She worked for the Prairie Hills Girl Scout Council for a number of years, and became an out-based Field Directory for the Girl Scouts.

“The office was in Columbus. I worked out of my house and went to Columbus a couple of times a month,” Stevens said.

Stevens moved up the ladder in the Girl Scout organization and received training to become an Executive Advisor. She worked with Scout Leaders in a number of communities and attended meetings and explained the Girl Scout program.

Ann loved living in Hartington and was happy she and Ed could raise their five children in a small town atmosphere.

All of her children attended UNL like their mother.

Jane studied French and now lives in Bozeman, Mont.; Judy has a math degree and works at the State Capital; Nancy teaches at Holy Trinity, Hartington; John is an electrical engineer and Patrick is a civil engineer. Both of her sons live near Colorado Springs, Colo.

All of her children came back to Hartington to help celebrate their mother’s 90th birthday.