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Sunlight poured in through the large storefront windows. Kids excitedly swung open the door and turned to the right as they spotted candy bars near the counter. An upright freezer with sliding doors on the west and north walls held the popular ice cream treats.
Grocery staples filled several shelves in the center of the store and the south side featured bins of fruit and vegetables. Event flyers were posted in the windows. The little country store was a hub of activity as friends and neighbors gathered for gas, groceries and beer.
Knievel’s Corner store served as a rural landmark and lifeline for generations of families for more than 70 years.
Now, memories and two gas pumps are all that remain of the former store after it was razed in a controlled burn on Saturday.
The Ewing Volunteer Fire Department burned the structure at the request of current property owner Ag Agronomy.
Originally built in 1936, the store was owned by the Ferdinand and Anna Hupp family. The store was sold to Joe Knievel in 1947. Located just west of the Antelope-Holt county line, it turned into a physical landmark in the area and became known as Knievel’s Corner. Knievel also had a tank wagon service for farm deliveries, and beginning in the 1960s, a fertilizer business was added. The grocery store was mainly operated by his wife Theresa and their 12 children: Chris, Steve, Rosemary (Schoolfield), Connie (Dvorak), Joe, Donna (Knievel-Kamas), Kathy (Fry), Ed, Theresa (Mackel), Ann Knievel, Rita (Weiss) and Paul. The family’s home, which was attached to the west side of the store, was built in 1956.
Connie said the grocery store was convenient for the people in the area as well as their large family.
“Dad used to call it an oversized pantry,” she recalled with a laugh.
Theresa said it was fun to go into the store and “just get what we were going to make for dinner.”
“It was a very nice pantry for our huge family,” she said.
Connie said since their home was attached to the store, it was a very big part of their lives.
“I suppose it would be kind of like someone who lived on a farm that had chores, but we had the store,” she said.
Theresa remembers ringing up customers at “a very young age,” and said it was “amazing that they trusted us.”
The kids pumped gas for customers, unloaded the Nash Finch delivery truck on Wednesday mornings when they weren’t in school, stocked the shelves, ran the cash register and made change, boxed up the groceries and helped the shoppers carry them to their car.
Rosemary said she enjoyed visiting with their neighbors who would do their weekly shopping on Saturdays.
“I developed some arm strength carrying out those heavy boxes,” she said.
“Everybody had big families then, so everybody needed a lot of groceries,” Connie said. “It was pretty fun, really.”
As their tank wagon and fertilizer businesses began to grow, she said her mother needed additional help and hired some local ladies to work there as well, including Marge Schindler, Rita Funk and Nita Hixson.
She said customers could purchase anything from lunch meat to basic hardware, such as nuts and bolts.
“And it was kind of a community center, I guess,” Connie said. “We were open basically seven days a week, but maybe just until around noon on Sundays.”
Gloria Christiansen of Neligh, who grew up just 4 miles west of Knievel’s Corner in the 1950s and 60s, said her favorite childhood memories of Knievel’s store happened on Sunday mornings.
“Coming from church every Sunday my dad often got the Omaha World-Herald just for the comics,” Gloria said. “There were six of us kids and we would get a nickel or a dime—not every time because times were hard, it all depended on if mom got enough money from the eggs that she had brought to Neligh at Tisthammers.”
But if there was enough, each one of the kids would receive a coin.
“So we went in and I always got a fudge ice cream cone or a salted nut roll,” Gloria remembered with a chuckle.
When her family got groceries on Sunday, she said the store’s matriarch was “famous for dropping in candy or a little treat for us kids.”
“We always wanted mom to buy groceries there because Theresa would treat us,” Gloria said.
Connie said her mother passed away in 1975, but “people still mention memories of her kindness and generosity.”
Her sisters agreed.
“I love to hear stories about when my mom was working in the store,” Rita said. “Several people have told stories about her throwing candy bars in their grocery bags, and then when they got home, were questioned by their parents about exactly how those candy bars got in there. It was a little thing that my mom did that made a special childhood memory for many.”
Theresa said she recalls watching her mother’s generosity in action.
“I remember mom walking around with neighbors that had sick family members or had suffered a recent loss and adding lots of extra items to their carts at no cost to them,” she said.
Gloria said Knievel’s store was also a meeting place for kids if their parents couldn’t pick them up from school on time.
“We would walk to Knievel’s store, wait for our parents to come and hope we had a nickel or dime with us so we could buy something,” Gloria said.
For that and many other reasons, she said it was a landmark that held “so many good memories.”
“It was just a really important place that tied us all together,” Gloria said.
Connie said her dad had the old store torn down in 1994 and reopened a new, larger store with a lunchroom in 1995. The business was sold in 1997 and closed about 10 years later.
“The store was part of a vibrant community while we were growing up, along with St. John’s Church and the country schools,” she said.
Connie said it’s been nice to hear everyone’s memories about Knievel’s Corner. Those memories are something she holds dear, especially now that it’s gone.
“We are pretty emotional about it, that’s for sure,” she said. “I don’t think Dad had any idea that it would end up in the shape that it’s in when he sold it. It was pretty important to him too.”
Rita said Knievel’s Corner was “an awesome place to grow up.”
“I was so sad when we moved, and a piece of my heart has never left,” she said. “Now, knowing that it’s gone, it feels like a death in the family. I don’t know any other way to describe it. A piece of our family history, and the community history, is gone.”