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Sybil Ickes-Malmberg-Berndt

November 8, 1925

Sybil Nadine Ickes was born on November 8, 1925 as the fourth of eight of Nevin & Rachel Ickes’ children.  Sybil graduated from Page High School, Page, Nebraska in 1942 and started taking classes at Lincoln University School of Commerce.  In 1949 she went to Wayne State Teachers College.

Her teaching career began in the heart of the Sandhills at Ashby-Hyannis in 1950 and then back to school at Greely State Teachers College.  She finished her teacher training at summer school at the University of Hawaii.  From the Aloha State she landed back in the Sandhills, south of Merriman, NE to teach at the Brandeis and McMurtrey School in 1954.

In 1955, she married Don Malmberg and they moved to Brownlee, NE, where she taught at the Hanna School.

In 1958 they moved to the Dan Hill Ranch, south of Gordon, NE, where they had five children. Here she met and became life-long friends with Caroline Pifer, Mari Sandoz’s sister.  Sybil helped Caroline memorialize Mari’s work in a museum on Highway #27 south of Gordon and started a small satellite “Mari Sandoz Room,” in Gordon, NE.

Sybil wrote The Sandhills in June, a 3 Act play, presented for the Gordon Memorial Hospital benefit in 1971.

In 1976 circumstances took Sybil and her family west to Newcastle, WY, and then further west to a ranch south of Lander, WY. It was here that her first Sandhills Cowboy died an untimely death in May of 1980, one month short of their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary.

Following Don’s death Sybil worked as a real estate sales person but she still kept one foot in the Nebraska Sandhills as she wrote and taught a college course, “Background of Mari Sandoz,” at Central Wyoming College through the 1980’s.

In 1990 Sybil moved back to Gordon, NE and married her second Sandhills cowboy, Fred Berndt. Once there, she rejuvenated the Mari Sandoz museum on Gordon’s main street, which became the center for classes, tours and guided busloads of tourists on the Old Jules Trail.  She wrote four books with her Mari Sandoz work and a column for The Gordon Journal titled Mari Sandoz Room News, of short biographies about local Sandhillers. Her 1990’s decade was capped with the Saga of the Modisett Ranch.

Her second husband, Fred Berndt died in 1997.

In 2005, Sybil helped move the Mari Sandoz museum to the High Plains Center in Chadron, NE.

Sybil continues to write, penning a memoir of her childhood in Melanie Rachel’s Wish, in 2011. In 2014 she wrote, “25 Years Don’s and Sybil’s Story,” recounting her life with Don Malmberg.

Sybil has four grand-daughters, six grandsons and 9 great grand-children.

An adventurous farm girl, Sybil returned to the Nebraska Sandhills from college in Hawaii to teach school, marry a Sandhill rancher, and raise a family, including two sons and three daughters. Her work in teaching, writing, curating and living centers around the Sandhill characters and Sybil’s experience.

Sybil’s work in the community included teaching Montessorri, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Music and Dramatic Club, the Community Extension Club, Jobs Daughters, Methodist Church and the Spring Lake 4-H club. Her deep involvement in the Mari Sandoz Heritage Foundation lasted four decades. Finally, Sybil secured local history for the Sandhill characters and events through her contributions to the Gordon Journal.  Sybil keeps Nebraska Sandhillers engaged.

List of Awards
March 31, 2006-In the Spirit of Mari Sandoz Award: Sybil Berndt for 40 years of service 1966-2006

  • Publications:
  • 1957- Amos
  • 1971- The Sandhills in June -A 3 Act Play
  • 1973- Goodbye Emily
  • 1978- Don Malmberg Family Genealogy
  • 1988- They Dared to Try
  • 1990-1997- Mari Sandoz Room News
  • 1999- Saga of the Modisett Ranch
  •           Old Jules Trail: In Mari’s Footsteps
  • 2001- Flora Sandoz
  • 2002- Fritz Sandoz
  • 2004- Caroline’s Sense and Sensibility
  • 2011- Melanie Rachel’s Wish
  •           There is No Crime in Singapore
  • 2014- “25 Years Don’s and Sybil’s Story”
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