April 1, 1929
Jack Ostergard was born on April 1, 1929 to Harry and Ilene Ostergard of 100% Danish/American pioneer stock. Jack was the second of six boys. His given name was Harry Dale, but at a few months of age, an aunt said “He doesn’t look like a Harry. Let’s call him Jack”. And so they did. Jack and his brothers grew up on the ranch with easy access to horses, so even in the midst of the great depression, childhood was a happy time. The ranch was in Custer County, a few miles from Etna Store – The store was torn down in the 40s, but Etna School House was used for Grades 1-8 well into the 60s. Jack’s son Ross recalls in the book Etna, “When I attended Etna School with my sister, we were the third generation of the Ostergard family to go there. My grandpa Harry attended the school when it was new, as did my dad and his brothers.” Our mother taught there. At that time each family still took turns bringing water and the bathrooms were out by the coal shed. In 2003 Jack compiled a history of this place and the people who lived there. It was published as the book Etna.
Jack says, “As children, we boys were convinced that going on cattle drives was one of the most wonderful things a boy could ever do. You had to be at least 9 years old the first year you went on a cattle drive. This was not just any cattle drive, but a 35 mile, two day drive. Since there were no horse trailers, one more day was required to ride the horses home. We rose between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. to get the chores done, eat breakfast, and get rolling and the first year you got to walk all the way. Grandpa felt if you learned to drive cattle on foot, you learned not to make mistakes. Some time in the late 1970s they put in a black top road through the sandhills. We could make a round trip in two hours with a truck, hauling 50 cows per trip”.
High School sports were important to the Ostergard boys. Jack was fortunate to play on the Gothenburg 1945 All-Class State Championship Football team and was inducted with his teammates into the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame.
Harry had raised his six boys with a deep love for baseball and he strongly encouraged participation, even if it meant missing some work. Jack played for the American Legion team, the Rock Island Rockets, and occasionally for the Gothenburg Blues. Mother Ilene was, among other things, a writer who went on to publish eight volumes of “Then and Now”, her weekly newspaper column. She passed on some of those literary genes to Jack as well.
Jack is a rodeo fan and for this he blames his parents. At six months of age, they took him to the Burwell Rodeo, which at the time was one of the top three rodeos in the nation. He caught the bug early on and never looked for a cure. On the ranch, cowboys were held up as sports heroes and there was more than a little glamour associated with rodeo cowboys. As a teenager, his dad encouraged him to break horses and solicited horses from other people for Jack to ride. Jack relates his memory of an August 3, 1952 rodeo in Gothenburg. He drew a good bucking horse named Joe Louis and made enough of a ride for second money which paid for his honeymoon the following week. Jack still says his rodeo career was one of the most adrenaline pumping experiences of his life.
Participation in the North Platte Canteen was a point of pride for jack and many others in the community. Groups of people from the area around North Platte met and served every train carrying service personnel through the duration of the World War Two. Details are provided from the book Etna, for example “Ladies of Dorcas served at the North Platte Canteen, October 12, 1945. Each member was asked to donate two fried chickens or three dozen eggs, two cakes, five dozen cookies, butter, cream and cash of $2.00.”
Jack’s chapter of the Future Farmers of America served twice at North Platte Canteen. While the mothers did much of the preparation, the boys proudly served food to the service men and women. Jack admits that a few of the young boys wished the war would go on long enough to give them a chance to join the fight.
The Korean War came along and taking his turn, in 1950, Jack enlisted in the US Navy. When he was stationed at Barber’s Point Naval Air Station on Oahu mail call was held in a large hangar. Jack’s girlfriend (Mary Norsworthy, who became his wife) wrote regularly and she would place a drop of White Shoulders perfume on her letters. The mail carrier would hold the letter up to his nose, calling out “OSTERGARD”, and would then pass the letter the full length of the hangar with each man smelling the letter before Jack did.
Much of Jack’s Navy time was spent aboard the U.S.S. Curtiss AV4. Jack says that the Pacific Ocean looked like a whole lot of water to a boy who grew up in the 1930s in central Nebraska.
Jack’s best buddy in the Navy was a good-looking farm boy from Kansas named Joe Gardner. Jack talks of the day he and Joe met. “Half a dozen men who had never seen each other before were assigned to peeling carrots. A non-commissioned officer came in complaining about how little had been done and threatened the group with extra work. As he left, a carrot splattered on the bulkhead just above him. He came back and demanded to know who threw the carrot. Sticking his nose in Jack’s face, he said we could all stay there until somebody talked. Come time to secure, we just left. The guilty party told Jack he thought he might be a good man to cross a river with.” This started a friendship that endures to this day.
In August of 1952, Jack married Mary Norsworthy, daughter of Gothenburg residents Roscoe and Gail Norsworthy. Jack and Mary had three children, Greg who was born in 1953 and passed away at 2 ½ months of age. Ann was born in 1954 and Ross came along in 1958. Ann and Ross grew up on horses are were often in a pick up truck, riding the calving pastures with their dad before school. They were real proud that their mom was a teacher and dad was a cowboy. In fact, Jack’s daughter Ann wondered how cows had ever given birth without her dad’s help. Early one calving season at 3 a.m. a heifer appeared to be in a bit of trouble. Jack explains, “I got her into the confinement chute and got my obstetrics chain. The calf was positioned normally so I attached the chain to the calf’s front feet and stepped inside it placing the chain around my back just above my waist. By placing my feet up on the rounds of the cow I could exert tremendous pressure, which I did. As the calf’s head came through the pelvis, there was an explosion of what had only recently been “green grass and water”. I was in the direct line of fire and I took it head on”. Fortunately, Mary was on the scene with her camera and when Jack took off his glasses his expression was recorded for posterity.
Jack was an early innovator in performance testing of cattle. For the kids, this meant great fun going to bull sales at Ft. Rob. For the grownups it was a little more serious. These detailed evaluations required a lot more hours and elbow grease in the days before computers. Bulls were chosen for their EPDs, their frame scores and the birth weights of their calves. Extensive Record keeping was a family affair, but the hard work of weights and measures belonged to the adults.
The OJ brand of cattle must have worn every kind of ear tag known to man. Jack even experimented with freeze branding numbers onto his herd with liquid nitrogen. Ann and Ross wanted to change Ann’s a plain brown horse into an appaloosa, but cooler heads prevailed. Jack had a number of exceptional horses in his life, but Ming – short for Donamingo – was the only horse he ever asked his daughter to help name. Despite her cumbersome name, Ming and Jack worked as one. In cutting and roping cattle they were a perfect team. Later there was Skeeter, a buckskin who was never quite broke. Jack continued to ride this mare until he retired and she continued to buck, with no warning. She only threw him once.
Jack is not just a roper, but a dally roper. In his book Ruminations he talks about roping calves at branding time. Calves were roped, usually by the hind legs, by a man on horseback and then dragged to the branding fire, where a hot iron mark of ownership was applied. The roper would make his catch, usually of both hind legs. The roper’s next action changed if he was a tie-hard-and-fast man or a dally man. A tie-hard-and-fast man would have the end of his rope tied to the saddle horn. He would have to let the rope run through his hand, keeping it tight enough that the calf didn’t kick out of the loops. The dally roper would, upon making his catch, move his horse up quickly-one jump, giving him enough slack in the rope to take a couple of quick turns or dallys around the saddle horn. The tie-hard-and-fast man would burn off a bit of skin, letting the rope slide over his fingers, while the dally roper would sometimes lose a finger, by dallying it into the wraps. To this day, Jack has all ten fingers.
Jack has been singled out for a variety of honors, appointments and responsibilities. In 1964 he was selected Outstanding Young Farmer/Rancher for Custer County and was 2nd place in the State of Nebraska Outstanding Young Farmer/Rancher competition. Jack was the Custer County Extension Board President for five years. He served on the school board. Jack and Mary organized Area 20 of the Nebraska Stock Growers. Jack served in numerous positions from committee chairman to the Cow/Calf council for 16 years on the official state board. In 1986 Jack was the first ever Nebraska Cattleman of the year. Also in 1986 Governor (later Senator) Bob Kerrey appointed Jack to the Nebraska Education and Economic Development Committee, as a director. In 1991, Senator Ben Nelson appointed Jack to the Agricultural Land Valuation Advisory Board for four years, which was followed by reappointment for another term. Jack served on his county extension board, and on the Nebraska Cattlemen’s Board of Directors. Jack is a long time Mason. He and Mary were active as 4H Leaders in Custer County and were Democratic Party Chairman and Chairwoman of Wayne Township. Mary was elected Nebraska Cowbelles president, 1980-81 and was Ak Sar Ben Rodeo Queen in 1980. She received the prestigious Helping Hand award in 1987-88. Jack and Mary Ostergard have been an inspired and inspiring team for 57 ½ years.
As he approached retirement Jack made a rough approximation of his miles on horseback. He started making cattle drives when he was 9, and for a while, those drives took place four times a year. Even after the blacktop road was put in they still drove the cows and hauled the calves until 1978 and for many years Jack rode the calving pasture on a saddle horse. At a minimum of 10 miles a day for 60 days, this adds up to 600 miles a year. When you add, helping the neighbors with routine branding and roundups it totals a minimum of 25,000 miles – the equivalent of going around the world on horseback.
In the late 90s, Jack and Mary sold the cows, rented out the ranch, and moved to the town of Gothenburg. Never one to let the Gramma Grass grow under his feet, Jack acquired another couple of careers. He is a successful real estate agent, specializing in agricultural lands and he is a cowboy poet of considerable renown. Jack carries on the literary tradition of his mother. His works range from the humorous “Old Blue” and “Mountain Oysters”, to the lyrical “Spring” and “Sandhill Symphony” that share the glory of Nebraska’s sandhills. “One more horse to Ride” combines verse with the compassion he learned from his mother. Jack has written several books and has given his original poetry and humor in seven states, so far.
Jack’s mother was active in Eastern Star and Jack also carries on that tradition. He is a Master Mason, third degree and a Knights Templar. Jack is active in VFW and American Legion.
In his spare time, Jack continues to battle against noxious exotics like musk thistle, cedar and leafy spurge.
Jack, Mary and son Ross live in Gothenburg. They belong to the First United Methodist Church. Son Ross is active as a Storm Spotter in tornado season. Mary and Jack are avid bridge players and voracious readers. Mary paints and gardens. She serves on the Dawson County Historical Society Board. Daughter Ann lives with botanist husband Carl Weekley in what passes for Cow Country down in Florida where the cows have “a lil more ear on em”.