Lela and Derrel Hutchens after they eloped in 1931. Married for 70 years, Lela could always bring a smile to Derrel’s face.
In 1931, during the great depression, Lela and Derrel Hutchens began their marriage of seventy loving years together. Lela was a country school teacher and Derrel was a farmer who had taken over the family farm in 1927 at the age of 17 when his dad died of cancer. He was left with a mother, two younger sisters, and a farm that had more debt than worth. And then, he fell in love with Lela Hall, the girl up the road. They eloped because Lela’s parents did not want her to get married, expecting her instead to work and contribute to the family finances.
Those wounds would heal and Lela and Derrel ended up farming just a quarter mile down the road from Lela’s parents, near Geneva, Nebraska. Despite the fact that Lela helped bring in off-farm income by teaching country school, then working in a hardware store and later cooking at the school cafeteria, Lela and Derrel were in debt their whole life. But that debt did not stop them from being nurturing parents and exemplarily role models.
They taught their three children to work hard, treat people kindly, help those less fortunate and love the land. They were also good neighbors, always helping with livestock chores and at harvest, along with being faithful supporters of their community. Having graduated from Geneva High School, Lela and Derrel attended the Geneva Alumni Banquets on an annual basis.One of the icons of the farm Derrel started farming on in the early 1900s was the barn with a curved roof. The barn was built with no power tools, only the power of muscle, sweat and determination.
Another outstanding feature of the farmstead was the giant pine trees that stood in front of the house. The trees were planted around 1888 and as of 2014 one of them is still proudly standing in front of the house.
Around 1950, Derrel borrowed money from the Geneva State Bank to purchase an old house and have it moved from two miles away, onto the farm that Lela and Derrel inherited. The house had no indoor plumbing or electricity so he also had to borrow money for the wiring. To save money, he went to town and bought a book on how to wire a house for electricity and did the job himself. Lela carried all the brick for the basement walls and Derrel laid them in place.
The house still stands today, a testament to their work ethic and determination to provide for their children, and their desire to leave a legacy for family members of the future. The same siding stayed on the house until 2010 and is the same siding in this photo as it was in 1950. Painting the house was always a family ordeal. In 1961, son Don Hutchens gave his mother for Mother’s Day, a promise to paint the house. It was an entire summer job, that also enlisted his mom to do the detail work and dad to help arrange the scaffolding.
Lela and Derrel had three children; Leon born in 1934, Linda in 1944 and Don in 1948. Leon became a successful President of a Pipeline Company; Linda a Masters educated teacher and media specialist, and Don a leader in Nebraska agriculture. Education was important to Lela and Derrel and they taught their children that education was something that could never be taken away from you. Today the Hutchens children, grandchildren and spouses have fifteen degrees from Nebraska Land Grant University of Nebraska. Obviously the message got through.
In 1973, son Don returned to the farm to farm with his father. In 1985 Don was hired by Gov. Kerrey to work in the State Department of Agriculture, and in 1987 Don was named as the Executive Director of the Nebraska Corn board. And even though he held full-time jobs, Don and son Jerad still continued to farm on weekends with Derrel.
The old barn with the curved roof was remodeled by Don, Derrel, neighbors and friends in 1982, then again in 2000. Kate, now a family physician in Kearney, Nebraska, tookup medicine and working in a Nebraska community because she recognized the importance of family doctors in rural communities as she saw her grandparents age. She and husband Matt have one son, Burke.
Annual family reunions were always very important. Homemade ice cream, fried chicken, along with all the trimmings and oh yes tractor rides, four- wheelers, and fireworks were standard fare.
Throughout their marriage, Derrel and Lela maintained their affection for each other. They taught their children well, to respect each other, their spouses and their family. They created a wonderful legacy and a strong heritage for generations to follow.
They were both strong workers and kind people. And for those reasons it is especially important that their story should be shared with others, for years to come. Derrel and Lela came to Lincoln to watch the Sower be hosted on top of this great capital.
They were here to see President Franklin Roosevelt drive up Centennial Mall in a motorcade and in 1967 came to celebrate Nebraska’s Centennial. And, they were strong supporters of the University of Nebraska through their children’s education. So it is only fitting they have a tribute tile in their name on new 2014 Centennial Mall.
Lela passed away in 2001 at the age of 89 and Derrel in 2004 at the age of 94. Their Nebraska spirit and fond memories of life growing up under their roof, live on.