Ann Rolfe died peacefully at her home west of Champion, Nebraska on the morning of Dec. 6, 2018, at the age of 99.
She was born at home, the Pugh family’s Cornucopia Ranch northeast of Imperial on Sept. 20, 1919. Named Ruth Ann Pugh, she was the last of the eight children, with five surviving to adulthood, born to James Wilbur and Eunice Emma Hammer Pugh. Both the Pugh and Hammer families were among the pioneer settlers of Chase County, arriving in the 1880’s.
Ann’s childhood was lived on the farm where she attended the rural District 61 School. As the effects of the Great Depression and Dust Bowl descended on Chase County, Ann and her sister Uldeane were moved to town with their grandfather, Samual C. Hammer, for the 1931 school year. Meanwhile, a house on Wellington St. was built for the family, providing a new level of comfort with electricity and natural gas.
For the 1932 school year Ann was placed in the freshman class at Chase County High School, graduating with the Class of ‘36 at the age of 16. Considered too young to leave home, Ann took some additional courses at CCHS and worked part-time at the local dairy north of town.
Seeing no future for herself in Imperial, in 1939 she traveled to California with three of her high school friends. There she married and bore her first daughter, Mary Lynn, in September of 1940. But the marriage did not last, forcing Ann to become a single parent in need of work at the age of 21. Fortunately, just a short bike ride from her home in Hawthorne, California. was an aircraft company offering jobs to women.
After completing a soldering class, Ann was put on the assembly line for cockpit instrument installation, a job best suited to slim, agile women. Under the watchful eye of the department head, Robert W. Rolfe, Ann worked diligently installing electronics on the V-72 and A-31 dive bombers and the early P-61 Black Widow night fighters.
During those war years, the employee ratio at Northrup Aircraft was 35 women for every 100 men. Mr. Rolfe kept one eye on Ann and a more watchful eye on the bachelors in his department, especially when he was away on desert test flights. Eventually Bob got his opportunity to get to know Ann outside of work. And when he proposed marriage, Ann accepted.
Bob and Ann were married in Redlands, California on the Saturday of July 3, 1943, followed by a reception dinner given by the Rolfe family in Mentone. Then on Sunday, July 4, Bob reported back to work. There were no paid holidays or days off with WWII raging. They felt lucky to have an automobile with enough rubber on the tires and gas rationing coupons to get to their wedding and back. A honeymoon would have to wait.
When Ann became Mrs. Rolfe, she unknowingly signed up for a life of frequent moving. Bob’s changing job assignments resulted in 10 household moves between 1944 and 1970. With the addition of three more children, son James in 1944, daughters Susan in ‘48 and Roberta in ‘51, all of her planning and organizational skills would become well honed.
As a homemaker she was frugal and creative. A good seamstress, she made many of their childhood clothes and toys, along with curtains, costumes and other furnishings. She truly enjoyed cooking and was constantly adding new recipes and cooking techniques to her culinary knowledge. She loved gardening, and if she thought she would not be moving soon, she planted gardens and taught her children how to grow food, flowers and herbs.
When moving or travel was necessary, Ann handled the logistics. On “moving days” they always entered a spotlessly clean and fully functioning house. And the house left behind was just as spotlessly clean. When traveling, whether on short outings or long vacation trips, Ann did the indoor packing while Bob loaded the car. Whatever might be needed was sure to be included in the cargo, and rarely was any space wasted on unnecessary supplies.
Well settled into home #7, Bob made good on his honeymoon promise in June of 1959. Then the marketing director for Northrup, he was scheduled to attend the Paris International Air Show. Never one to miss an opportunity, Bob arranged to have Ann meet him in Paris and then travel as a couple on to Copenhagen and Rome. From that time on, whenever they could take a vacation without the kids, they did.
In the early 1960’s, Ann’s mother Eunice Pugh and sister Evea Scrivner moved from the family home in Imperial to Santa Monica, California. Vacationing Pugh relatives often came to stay with them.
Ann’s daughter Mary Lynn had married and delivered the first grandchild in 1962. Son James was then in college, but returned home on most weekends with a classmate in tow. The teenage daughters were feeling cramped in their small shared bedroom. And Bob’s parents in Mentone were getting too old to continue hosting the annual EasterThanksgiving-Christmas gatherings.
There was no doubt in Ann’s mind that home #9, too small and built on a steep hill in Hermosa Beach, was no longer practical. In 1965 she found #10, a newly built, spacious 4-bedroom ranch style home just across the street from the high school in Manhattan Beach. While it took awhile to fully landscape and furnish, it offered Ann three things she truly loved; a spectacular kitchen, a sewing room and gardens.
If it broke her heart in 1970 to learn that Bob was assigned to work in Iran, Ann never outwardly showed it. She’d had a longer stay than usual in home #10, and with all the children grown it probably was more house than they needed. Ann made all the tough decisions about what to take to Iran, what to give away and what to put in storage for the future.
Ann spent a total of three 3 years in Tehran, with periodic trips back to the U.S. On one such trip in the spring of 1972, Bob and Ann purchased a 40-acre parcel on the Frenchman Creek west of Champion. In the spring of 1973 they returned to start building their retirement home. By 1975 the house was sufficiently furnished to welcome guests.
In the 45 years between then and now, Ann and Bob played host to many of their dear friends and relations traveling from California, Texas, Iowa and Minnesota. The grandchildren spent many summer vacations with them fishing and birdwatching with Bob and cooking and gardening with Ann.
They did a lot of traveling together, sometimes in connection with Bob’s volunteer work but more often to visit friends and relatives on their sightseeing tours of North America. In the 1990’s they took an Alaska cruise, and made several trips to Hawaii.
But as the new century dawned, they realized they were getting too old to travel alone. They didn’t stop traveling altogether, but now the kids did the driving.
Ann’s last vacation wish was granted in 2010, with an RV motorhome trip through the Southwest and up the Pacific Coast to Washington. By witnessing the frenetic energy of 21st-century California compared to the California of her memories, she realized that retiring in Chase County had been the right decision after all.
By the spring of 2015 Ann was frail and bedridden, yet her husband and children were still by her side, returning the comfort and love she had given to them.
On July 3, 2018, Bob and Ann celebrated their 75th Wedding Anniversary. With Bob passing on Aug. 10 of this year, it is not surprising that Ann soon followed. Their love was a very strong bond.
Ann chose cremation, and her ashes will be inurned with Bob’s for later burial at Crete Cemetary. A final burial service is being planned for July 3, 2019.