Family members turned out to celebrate Pioneer Manor resident Howard Bennage’s 101st birthday on July 19. Howard’s children Liz Cottrell, Kathleen Pederson, Virginia Geer and Jim Bennage, along with grandson Kevin Geer and his family came for the party.
According to daughter Liz Cottrell, her mother’s family homesteaded in Campbell County in the early 1900’s, and her Aunt Elvera Kee served as County Treasurer. Her father Howard came to Gillette with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression, and went to work for a local car garage and dealership in 1935 for $80 a month.
Mr. Bennage has some unique stories to tell about Gillette history in the years after the Depression, many of them centered around the Chevrolet dealership and garage, which he purchased in 1949 from Hubert Dickey. Here are some excerpts from Mr. Bennage’s recollections of those days, compiled in 1995.
From 1949 to 1962 I was sole owner under the name Bennage Chevrolet. We had one Chevrolet customer named Sam Rowe who bought a new Chevrolet coupe every year. It had to be black and Sam always paid cash out of an old Bull Durham sack he carried his cash in. If the roads were muddy he would drive it to Weston and ride his horse from Biddle, Montana, because he did not want to get his car dirty.
Another interesting story was about the lady from Wyodak who would bring her car in for service. In the back seat was her “kitty”, a wild bobcat. The boys were afraid to get in the car so she had to get in and start it so they could check the motor.
We had another customer, Eric Ohman, who wanted more power for his jeep so he ordered a complete Cadillac motor and installed it himself. I asked him how it worked and he said he could outrun an antelope now.
Howard and his wife Alberta sold the dealership in 1962 and bought a ranch in the Lander area. They retired to Missouri, on land that had been in Howard’s family since the Civil War.
Daughter Liz Cottrell wanted to bring Howard closer to the rest of the family after her mother’s death, so Howard came back to Gillette.
“I’m so happy with the care my dad is getting at Pioneer Manor,” said Liz. “Everyone is very patient with him, and we found out what really good care was.”
According to Howard, when you reach 101 years old, you can do whatever you want!