February 23, 1926
Vern Dent was born February 23, 1926 in Ord, Nebraska to Bert and Flossie (Cooper) Dent. He was the 3rd of 4 children in this family – Bert (oldest brother), Wynona (sister), Vern and Dewayne (youngest brother). His family lived and worked around the Dunning/Halsey area. As a young boy, he recalls herding turkeys for Shinn Turkeys as one of the ways to make a little money. At age 16 (1942), he quit school and boarded a train headed west with nothing but a box of clothes and his saddle in hopes of being a cowboy. On the train, he met a guy going to work at the JHL Ranch north of Ashby – Vern decided to go there to see if he could get a job, and he did. This was his first job away from home. After working at the JHL, he worked for numerous other Sandhills ranches including the Evans Ranch near Whitman, Wolly Farrar south of Mullen, Fred Boyer near Mullen, Big Creek Ranch north of Mullen, The Carver north of Whitman, and the Hagar Ranch south of Mullen.
On September 23, 1948, he married Helen Pearson and they began their lives together living and working on Slim Marshall’s ranch north of Whitman. The following January was the infamous blizzard of ’49. Helen recalls Vern didn’t lose one animal in the storm, even though livestock loss in the area was catastrophic. He fed hay everyday with a team of horses finding his way to and from the cattle by following a fence line down a mile or two to where the cattle were. Helen said “Looking back now, it was really not very smart to get out in that weather. But Vern knew his job was to take care of those cattle, and that’s just what he did. That’s just the way he is.” After working at Marshall’s, Vern and Helen worked for the Roseberry Ranch north of Whitman, Bill Manning north of Whitman, and the Art Buchfinck Ranch north of Mullen. While at Buchfinck’s, there were 23 milk cows to milk twice a day; before working there Helen had never milked a cow, but “It didn’t take me long to catch on,” she said with a laugh. They milked those cows for half of the cream and sold the cream for groceries.
In 1953 Vern went to work for Albert Starr north of Mullen where he worked for 8 years. During those 8 years, Vern bought a milk cow in partnership with his father-in-law. This was the first cow Vern owned any part of, getting “his start” with half interest in a milk cow. Vern then continued to buy cows as they could afford while working for Albert. After working for Albert for 8 years, Vern owned around 150 cows. At this time he leased Albert’s place and bought enough of Albert’s cows to fill the place up.
In 1965, Vern leased Lyle Starr’s place (13,000 acres) north of Mullen, and he and the family moved there. This lease lasted until 2012 at which time Vern’s family bought the place. In 1975, Vern bought his first piece of land, buying Owen Vanetta’s ranch north of Mullen (6,000 acres). He continued buying land in the Mullen area as he was able to, buying The 700 yards in 1984 (1,560 acres), ground on the Dismal River in 1989 (6,000 acres), the Elliot in 1991 (2,800 acres), Leonard Starr’s place, which was Albert Starr’s homestead, in 1992 (9,300 acres) and then sold the Dismal River ground to buy the Soward (2,600 acres) and the Coble (5,000 acres) in 1995.
At that time in 1995, Vern had put together 42,000 acres in the heart of the heart of the Sandhills, running 1,500 cows and 1,500 yearling year round.
Vern always ran a true “cake and range” ranch, meaning everything from fresh weaned calves to old momma cows were turned in to fresh winter range after weaning time, and lived there until the next year’s weaning time. They were supplemented with salt and mineral year round, and cake in the winter months. Cows were brought in to calve, and at that time was the only time they were fed hay.
This proved to be good for the cattle, pastures and pocketbook. The cows were smaller framed than cows eating hay all winter, allowing Vern to run more cows because of their smaller frame size, and naturally, smaller appetites, while still weaning big calves each fall and maintaining excellent pregnancy rates. The pastures were on a “year on and year off” rotation rather than being summered regularly. This allowed blowouts to heal in the summer without cattle in there every year and the soap weeds were ate in the winter when the snow was deep, making better all around pastures. Keeping the cost of feed low, and production high, this “cake and range” style of ranching made sense from the beginning to Vern, and obviously, worked well.
Vern never spent money on something that he could get by without and always maintained an unbelievable work ethic. From bucketing cake to feed the cows instead of using an overhead bin to load his caker, to trapping muskrats to make a few extra dollars in the wintertime, he always found a way to save and earn money. His ambition and “money savvy” allowed him to not just survive the times of high interest rates and low cattle prices, but to continue to buy land and expand his operation. He is a true inspiration to all cattlemen and women.
Vern and Helen have three children. Mike (Rachel) Dent, Jane (Mike) Edelman, and Steve (Erin) Dent. Grandchildren include Dan (Molly) Dent, Dana (Scott) Freiberg, Leslie (Matthew) Lee, Brent (Jenner) Edelman, Stacey (Jeff) Stanbury, Steven (Tina) Edelman, Katie (Joe) Mundorf and Steven (Kay) Dent. Vern and Helen have numerous great grandchildren. Vern’s influence was and is strong as both of his sons operate cattle ranches, as do multiple grandchildren.
Vern Dent has lived the true American Dream. He is a man that has gone from rags to riches and has done so through the ranching industry, in the heart of the Sandhills. He left his home at Halsey, Nebraska, at the age of 16, boarding a train headed west with only a box of clothes and a saddle with hopes of being a cowboy. From this humble beginning, hard work, ambition and determination has since proven to be enough to achieve this 16 year old boy’s dream. Little by little, this cowboy put together upwards of 42,000 acres of land and sold millions of dollars in cattle each year. Vern Dent truly is THE American Dream and is very deserving of being in the Nebraska Sandhills Cowboy Hall of Fame.
In 2001, Vern received the Commercial Cattleman Award presented by the Nebraska Polled Hereford Association.
In 1980 and 1981, Vern was a judge at the National Western Livestock Show and Rodeo in Denver for Polled Hereford fat cattle.