Pickstown’s ‘First Families.’
Whether an actual ‘First Family or an early resident, the recollections presented here are representative of the experience and experiences of Pickstown’s early residents.
The Lihs family, Edwin, Lillian, Delwin & Dennis moved into the area in 1946.
After living on property owned by the Svatos family, located approximately two miles north of town, the family moved into Pickstown in 1947 where they remained until leasing five acres from BIA owners, Dianne and Jim Stone. In 1948 they established their own farmstead north of the Svatos property.
Living on the farmstead while Edwin helped build Pickstown as a supervising carpenter; the family raised chickens, pigs and had two milk cows. Even though the property had no electricity between 1948 and 1952, and never any running water, the family considers the 28 years they lived there as being on “God’s Little Acre.”
Due to the blizzard of 1948, Doctor Eugene and Nurse Bridgett Flynn arrived at the farm by snowplow to deliver Jerry. Sister Barb was born in 1954 and brother Dave followed in 1959. All five Lihs children attended school in Pickstown. Delwin graduated in 1959, Dennis in 1964 and Jerry in 1967. Barb graduated in 1973 in California. Dennis and Jerry attended all twelve grades at Pickstown. They were joined by brother Dave, born on the 4th of July, 1959 in Armour. He attended school in Pickstown until the family moved to Tyndall where he graduated in 1978. After retirement Ed & Lil returned to Pickstown where they lived for a year before moving to Tyndall.
Edwin was the 1st carpenter on the job. He and his co-worker Lloyd Dean supervised work crews as the town was being built between 1946 to 1949. After construction of the town was completed they stayed on for thirty years as maintenance workers for the town. Edwin was one of the last five original employees who had been at the damsite since construction began in 1946.
After retiring in 1973, he and Lillian settled in nearby Tyndall. Lillian passed in August of 2001. Edwin passed in December of 2014 at age 100.
Peggy Rice had four sets of family members residing in Pickstown. After being discharged from the Navy, Peggy’s father Harry Rice, married Margaret in November, 1946 and moved to Wagner, South Dakota. Harry worked for the Corps of Engineers on a survey team, was a barge deck hand and a barge operator and Margaret was a clerk typist. Harry’s sister Marjorie and her husband Pat Nelson, who also worked for the Corps moved to the area in 1946. Pat worked in the accounting department, while Marjorie was a clerk typist. Another sister, Margrete and her husband Lester Wiele, who worked on construction at the dam also arrived in 1946. Harry and Margaret, Pat and Marjorie, Lester and Margrete resided in Wagner for the first year while housing was being built in Pickstown. In December 1947, Peggy’s grandparents, Roy and Golden Rice moved from Hastings, Nebraska to Pickstown. He was a precision machinist and supervised the Corps machine shop.
At the same time, Peggy’s great grandfather, Oliver Renfro, came to live with them. Oliver lived with them until he passed away in 1952 in Pickstown. The first winters in Pickstown were brutal for the “born and raised in Missouri” family. One blizzard was so deep that snow was up on the front window of the house and the back door was almost completely covered. Great-grandpa Oliver walked the floor and watched the snow continuously come down. He made Peggy’s mother promise to not bury him in this “God forsaken land”… he is buried near his hometown of Lynn, Missouri.
The family lived in the first group of duplexes on James Avenue. The first few years of living in Pickstown created memories of lots of snow and in the winter of 1949 all the roads and railroad into Pickstown were completely closed. Food was air-lifted into the area by the Army as part of Operation Snowbound.
Rattlesnakes were a constant threat and Peggy’s parents kept one window unlatched without a screen so she could be lifted through the window when a rattlesnake was in the front yard which was frequently since the creek bed to the west of Pickstown known as Rattlesnake Gulch was close by.
Lester and Margrete Wiele with their two sons, Michael and Patrick who were born while in Pickstown, were the first of the family to leave and moved to Albuquerque, NM with the Corps. Next, Pat and Marjorie Nelson moved to Warrensburg, MO where they both worked at the Whiteman Air Force Base. In 1954, Harry, Margaret and Peggy moved to Warrensburg, MO after school was out, where they both worked at Whiteman. At the same time, Peggy’s grandparents also moved to Warrensburg where he worked in the machine shop at Whiteman. Before moving, Peggy attended grade school in Pickstown. She graduated from Warrensburg high school, the University of Nebraska and Florida Atlantic University and currently lives in Belton, MO. Harry returned to Pickstown in the late ‘60’s, married Carrie Ackerman Rice and remained there until retirement when they moved to Lake Andes. Margaret passed away in 1986 and Harry in 1997.
Joe Specht joined the Corp of Engineers in 1946 as the shop foreman when the government garage was in Lake Andes. In the spring of 1947, he moved his family; wife Mary and children Helen & Bill to Pickstown. They lived in the old farm house on the west side of town. It had no electricity, running water or bathroom, only a two hole outhouse. This house later became headquarters for the Western Contracting Corporation. It was later resold and moved to Lake Andes.
In January 1948, a house was finished at 148 Maple Court and the family moved into it. On February 4th, Doctor & Bridget Flynn came to the house to deliver Linda. She was the first baby born in Pickstown. The doctor and Bridget lived in a duplex on Maple Court and had their clinic in the other half until the hospital opened March, 1949. All three children graduated from Pickstown High School: Helen in 1949, Bill in 1952 and Linda in 1966.
After retirement in 1966, Joe and Mary returned to Anoka, Nebraska. They remained in Anoka until Joe's death in 1989. Mary then moved to Waverly, Nebraska until her death. Helen moved to the San Francisco area and married Don Hansen and passed away in February 2012. Bill and wife Barbara live in Yankton, SD and Linda and husband Dennis Stubbendick live in Waverly, Nebraska.