HI author honors young men of the Nebraska CCC

Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Holiday Islander Suzanne Williams recently published a history of the Civilian Conservation Service camps in Nebraska, titled Nebraska and the CCC: Young Men at Their Best. Photo by Kathryn Lucariello

By Kathryn Lucariello

HOLIDAY ISLAND -- A labor of love has finally come to fruition for Suzanne Williams, whose self-published book, Nebraska and the CCC: Young Men at their Best, was distributed last month.

The 272-page book is about the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps in Nebraska, although it is an extensive resource on the national Corps, which was established as part of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs.

A long task

Williams began her task in the summer of 2000, while she was still living in Nebraska before moving to Holiday Island. At a meeting of the Denton, Neb. Community Historical Society she heard a presentation by Gerald Robert "Bob" Brophy, a member of the Nebraska CCC Vets, about his experiences as an enrollee in the Corps in 1941. The Vets were disbanding, and Brophy had donated photographs and memoirs to the Society.

Williams later heard other programs by CCC vets Harold "Mick" Sullivan and Joseph "Joe" Splichal.

"I found Mick and Joe's stories both interesting and amusing," she wrote in her introduction. "I felt their stories needed to be recorded so that future generations would know and learn to appreciate the contributions the CCC made during the Great Depression."

The book details the purpose and formation of the CCC, life at a typical camp and many personal recollections of men who served in the camps, along with photos from the time period.

Surprising facts

During its 11-year tenure, Williams wrote, "an army of three million men built America's state and national parks, forests, bridges, dams, fish hatcheries, fire towers, roads and lakes ..."

Williams said she was surprised to learn five former CCC camps had been used as prisoner of war camps in Nebraska during World War II. She found the information so interesting she devoted an appendix to it.

The CCC had camps all over the nation, including here in Eureka Springs and in the local region.

A local connection

Williams found a connection between a local camp and a Nebraska camp, she said, with a man who contributed to the writing of her book and lives today in Denver, Colo.

"Army First Lieutenant Eugene Milton Orton was the first company commander of Company 1713, located at Roaring River from September 1933 to November 1934. The company was assigned to work in the state park.

"Just before leaving Cassville on Nov. 18, 1934, he married Elizabeth Ray, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. John Ray, who operated the Cassville Democrat."

Orton worked in Shell Knob, Ava, Kirksville and Ellington, Mo. He was later assigned to camps at Beatrice and Denton, Neb.

Williams held a book signing at the Denton Community Historical Society last month. She has donated 600 of the books to the Society to help raise funds for their efforts to build a museum. Three of the former CCC vets attended.

A major contribution

She wrote that she enjoyed writing the book about the enrollees and "soon developed respect for what they had contributed to society," noting that "many of the bridges, dams, roads and buildings are still standing today."

She dedicated the book to her parents and grandparents, "who learned from their childhood poverty never to be wasteful and to be grateful for all of our gifts."

Undaunted by the task she has just completed, Williams said she will soon be starting on another book project, with Lynda Thompson, in conjunction with the Friends of the Barn, on the history of the Barn, a historic structure in Holiday Island.

"If anyone wants to help, feel free," Williams said.

She can be reached at 253-6978.

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