On June 1st in the year 1920, God sent a beautiful blue eyed baby girl to Chet and Goldie (Lytle) McPheron on a farm in Holmesville, Nebraska. Ellen Viola McPheron made her arrival 3 months early as she was not due until the last of August! She was so tiny they put her in a dresser drawer and kept her by the stove to stay warm. They fed her milk through cheese cloth since she was too weak to suck. She had no finger nails or eyelashes. A true miracle that she survived! Amazingly this feisty and strong-willed spirit continued to serve her well for 101 years.
Living life on the farm was a wonderful adventure with her 5 siblings. Ellen spent most of her days outside helping her dad with the chores of milking the cows, feeding the chickens and anything else farm life insisted on. Those years were lived during the depression so times were tough for all families. However, the farm provided for all their needs and even though times were hard there was always enough love to go around.
After graduating from Holmesville High in 1938, Ellen decided to spread her wings a little and moved to Colorado. She worked as a waitress and housekeeper while she was living there. Even though city life was exciting, she decided to move back to her roots in Nebraska. After moving back she began to date a fellow. He introduced himself as Leonard Ford. He was tall and handsome and Ellen knew right away that he would make a wonderful husband and an amazing dad. History would prove that she was right on both accounts.
Leonard and Ellen were married on June 22, 1941. They made their newlywed home in Clay Center, Kansas. After a short time, they moved to Beatrice, Nebraska where Leonard began his career with Swift and Company in their hatchery. Ellen used her creative skills and love of flowers and began working at the Dole Floral Shop. They began their family on January 14, 1948 when God sent them their daughter Shirlee. Four years later on May 22, 1952 another daughter, Wendee, made her arrival.
In 1953 Leonard and Ellen and their daughters began a new adventure. They left Beatrice and purchased a baby chick hatchery in Tecumseh, Nebraska and began Ford Hatchery. They were a great team. Ellen helped in the hatchery traying eggs, taking chick orders, organizing pancake feeds and just whatever needed to be done for the business. They were always a great example of what a strong marriage looks like and of putting others’ needs ahead of your own. Later they would add a wallpaper and paint business to the hatchery. It was named the Peeper Paper Paint Place and Leonard was the proprietor!
Life in Tecumseh was good. Ellen stayed busy raising their two daughters and was always involved in working for her church, school, and civic activities. She also enjoyed being on a golf and bowling team. Finding herself with an empty nest after the girls went off to college, she began working at Field Floral and Gift in Tecumseh. It was a great fit for her. Flowers and people…..two great loves in her life! Leonard and Ellen enjoyed this season of their lives together: playing golf, traveling to visit family, and of course, spending time with and loving on their grandchildren.
Unfortunately, their lives together would not include the future they had been hoping for. After 41 years of marriage, the tall and handsome man who was the love of her life would leave this earth. In December of 1982 Leonard passed away, leaving behind a family who knew they had been loved well by an amazing husband and dad. Ellen was to begin another new journey. How would life look now without Leonard by her side? Just as she had done all through life, she made the decision to not be bitter but to be thankful for all the wonderful years together God had blessed them with. Once again that feisty and strong-willed spirit moved her forward in life. She took charge of the Peeper Paper Paint Place, learning to be a strong woman in the business world, still ordering chicks for the farmers and even debeaking and de-winging them in her garage!!
In 1996 Ellen made the difficult decision to sell the hatchery. She said it was like letting go of Leonard once again. She enjoyed her retirement in Tecumseh and spent many happy times with her lady friends who were known as the “Wild Widows”! As the years passed, Ellen realized she wanted to be closer to her family so in 2004, she made the decision to sell the house she had lived in for close to 50 years and move to Lincoln. Adjusting to city life was a challenge but she met new neighbors and once again lived out her love for people. For the last 13 years of her life she lived with her daughter Shirlee and her husband Roger.
If you ever asked Ellen, she would always say that life is good! She persevered after a stroke, working hard to keep her body strong. Until her death she read 3 newspapers a day, balanced her own checkbook, followed politics, kept up on the latest news, and followed many friends on Facebook. She was an amazing example of living life to the fullest. Her ability to move forward in life no matter her circumstances is a great legacy. Looking over her 101 years one has to wonder what her secret was. She would say her faith has been her strength. Trusting God even in the mysteries of life, having strong family roots, and knowing that she was well loved.
She passed that love on to all those she touched in life. Ellen always remembered birthdays, anniversaries, the sick, and new babies with a card or phone call. She sent out over a 100 Christmas cards every year with her famous Christmas letter.
Ellen peacefully passed from this life into the arms of her Savior at the age of 101 on November 5, 2021 with her family at her side.
She was preceded in death by her husband Leonard, her parents Chester and Goldie (Lytle) McPheron, sisters Helen Bryant (Chris), LeeOna McPheron, Neva Schultze (Jake), and brothers Chet Jr. (Dorothy), and Teddy (Bess).
Ellen is survived by daughters Shirlee Lempke (Roger) and Wendee Nichols (Dan), brother-in-law Jake Schultze, 5 grandchildren, 17 great-grandchildren, and 2 great-great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, and many, many friends.
Private family grave side services will be held Saturday, November 13, at the Church of the Brethren Cemetery, Holmesville, Nebraska with Pastor Hugh Giesbrecht officiating. A public celebration of Ellen’s life is planned for a later date in Tecumseh, Nebraska.
Who knew that the tiny baby sent to that farm on a warm June day in 1920 would make such a mark on her world! All those she touched and loved so well will always be thankful!
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