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The good son: Lexington’s Ira Webster Olive

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Posted: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 12:00 am

Although Print Olive, featured in the April 6 edition of Clipper-Herald, was mean enough to have garnered the nickname of “manburner,” his brother Ira Webster Olive- born in Texas on Nov. 4, 1847- was just the opposite.

Like his brother, Print, Ira drove cattle up from Texas with the Olive family, eventually settling in the Lexington area in about 1876.

Unlike his brother Print, Ira turned his back on herding cattle on the open range, buying about 9,000 acres south of the Platte River, producing more beef than ever before. He also had a hand in starting a local bank, which would eventually become Pinnacle Bank, and of which he was an officer.

Marrying Louise Westbrook on Jan. 12, 1870, the couple had four children; two sons, who died during infancy, another son, Frank Westbrook Olive and a daughter, Nora.

In 1889 Ira and Lou Olive built a large frame two-story structure in Lexington on 13th Street, which still stands today and is listed in The National Register of Historical Places.

Designed by George Barber, and built by local carpenter Harry H. Mills, the 3,000 square foot home featured 13 rooms with 46 windows and five original stained glass windows.

In 1900 a sun porch was added to the structure and in 1920, an enclosed back porch.

Ira’s socially conscious wife held a tea each spring on their lawn inviting notables from the community.

Slightly more than a hundred years later, the Soroptimists of Lexington held an annual Olive Tea at the residence, where women would wear clothing from the period and tables set with linen tablecloths and good china were arranged on the front lawn of the Victorian-style house at 401 E. 13th St.

Hot tea, lemon water, cucumber sandwiches, white chocolate dipped dried apricots, miniature cheesecakes, chicken salad, a filled lace cookie and a peach scone with jam topping were among the offerings, and in addition to the elegant service of tea, guests enjoyed admittance to the house and rides in vintage cars provided by the Goldenrod Antique Car Club for tours of other historic locations in Lexington.

Money raised from the event sponsored scholarships for local high school seniors and Central Community College students.

When the 10-year tradition ceased in 2004, the Olive home was the only one in Lexington on the National Register of Historical Places.

Occupants of the Olive home throughout the years have been: the Ira Olive family, 1889-1928; Fred and Nora (Olive) Handley, circa 1931; Chester and Willa Proffitt; Edward L. and Lillian (Reed) Bellinger; Lucille Brad-street, circa 1961; the Don Malcolm family, circa 1971-1974; the Andrew Krajewski family, 1975-1976; the Dan Branstiter family, 1976-1979; Craig and Linda Orrison, 1979-1987; Garth Tyson and Diane Morris, 1987 and Rob and Liz Waterman, 1988 to present.

About the same time the house in town was built, Olive had also built a two-story ranch house south of the Platte River, one in which he would never live, but was the hub of his cattle operations.

In a written recollection by the late Lexington resident, Harlan Anderson, whose parents homesteaded the land adjacent to the Olive ranch, and whose father and uncle worked on the Olive Ranch, Anderson recounted a story of when Ira Olive drove up to his family’s yard and asked Anderson’s father, Art, if he could help him drive cattle to the Lexington stockyards the next morning.

As he was leaving, he turned and asked if Harlan could come along, too.

His father, who preferred not to take the boy out of school, acquiesced, however, and the next morning Harlan, riding bareback, helped the other men get the Herefords, Shorthorns and Brahma’s on their way to Lexington. By the time the group had reached the Platte River, Art thought that maybe Harlan needed to get back to school, but Ira again talked him into letting the youngster stay.

After the cattle were finally corralled into the stockyards, Ira said, “Art, the kid did such a good job, let’s go up town and treat the kid to a T-bone steak at Pete Hagadone’s.”

Harlan, who’d never had a T-bone before, decided the steak sure was good.

He’d also made another decision that day, one about Ira Olive.

“One thing for certain, Ira W. Olive and his parents were the good guys in the Olive family.”

Harlan also recalled Ira Olive seated in his Willys-Knight on his daily commute from the Olive Home to the Olive Ranch.

“Mr. Olive was not a tall man but he rode as straight in his car as he did on a horse, with a cigar in his mouth, driving looking neither right or left about 20 miles an hour.”

Don Magnuson, a third generation Lexington resident, chuckles when the car is mentioned.

“Ira had one of the first automobiles,” Magnuson recalled. “In the early days they sometimes stalled in the heat.”

One of the local mechanics, Marvin Gasser, was summoned to help with the car, but couldn’t get it started. After a fashion, Herman Magnuson, who was Don’s uncle, happened along and tried to give it a go.

By then the car had sat there long enough to cool down, Herman was able to get the car started without much trouble.

According to Don, Ira Olive had a noticeable stutter.

“M-m-much obliged, M-m-magnuson,” Olive said to Herman, before turning to the other man.

“Gasser, I don’t owe you nothing.”

Don was little more than five years old when Ira Olive died, but his father, Myron, took him along with him to attend Ira’s funeral, which was held at the Olive mansion.

“My dad picked me up so I could see inside the coffin,” Don recalled. “It was the only funeral service I ever went to that had a glass cover over the body.”

Although they are still occasionally used today, the glass covering, sometimes called “glass caskets,” are basically glass tops that are placed over the opening of a casket, to protect the deceased from being touched by people paying their last respects.

When Ira Olive died at the age of 80, the Lexington Clipper wrote in a newspaper tribute published on Sept. 13, 1928, that he was a man of very broad sympathies and a decidedly loyal friend to the large circle of friends he had made.

“Mr. Olive has rendered many helpful deeds of kindness to those who needed help, and one of his last services of helpfulness was his liberal contributions to the development of the Lexington Young People’s Summer Conference grounds in which he was so deeply interested in providing a place for the training of the young people. So, men pass out of this life, but their helpful deeds live on.”

While Ira’s deeds lived on, his bloodline did not.

Ira’s son, Frank, would precede him in death by four years.

When Ira died in 1928, his estate, valued at almost a quarter of a million dollars, was divided between his wife, Louise, his daughter, Nora, and his late son’s wife, Naomi.

Louise, whose health had been failing for several years, declined rapidly after Ira’s death. Her own death was a couple of weeks after her 81st birthday.

Nora, who had been married not once, but twice, and was childless in both marriages, died in March 1967 at the age of 96, the last direct descendant of the Ira Olive family.

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