Orville Beyea

orville beyeaLong-standing Nebraska Sandhill rancher Orville Swarthout Beyea died July 1, 2020 in the Cherry County Hospital in Valentine, NE at age 92 after sudden complications related to Parkinson’s disease.

He was born May 25, 1928 in Dundee, NY to Hobart McKinley Beyea and Lucy Ida Swarthout Beyea. Orville grew up poor on a small farm in upstate New York when agriculture was still mechanized by horse power. He milked cows by hand, drove teams of horses to do the field work and haying, and learned the skills needed to live off the land.

He earned a national 4-H scholarship for designing a milking system for the family farm. He attended Cornell University where he was active in collegiate livestock events, and competed as a pole vaulter on the university’s track and field team. He worked in the West during his summers off from college and nurtured his dream to become a rancher after he completed his degree in animal science.

Orville met his wife Joan Felice Palermo of New York City while they both were attending college at Cornell. They married Oct. 20, 1951. He served in the United States Army during the Korean War and was stationed in Germany with the 483rd Veterinary Food Inspection Detachment.

Orville and Joan worked on Hereford farms and ranches in Pennsylvania, Colorado and Nebraska before starting their own business, Wishbone Herefords, in 1964 in the Nebraska Platte River region. Since there was no ranch to inherit, the couple built their operation on rented spreads, moving to larger ranches as their herd of cattle and horses grew. They eventually landed in the Sandhills.

Wishbone Herefords held an annual production sale of registered horned Hereford bulls and provided herd sires for numerous repeat customers across the Great Plains for over 35 years. Orville judiciously studied pedigrees and performance records, and was committed to developing cattle that were sound, efficient and had a calm temperament. The family exhibited Herefords on the national level and Orville was active in cattle producers’ organizations and helped youngsters by volunteering as a 4-H leader. He served a term as Nebraska Hereford Association president and was frequently invited to judge regional Hereford exhibitions. 

Orville had a special love for horses and took great pride in the family’s Quarter Horse herd. As with the cattle breeding program, he paid special attention to the pedigrees, temperament, athleticism and soundness of the mares and stallions on the ranch. He preferred to work the cattle herd the “cowboy way” by using horses to do the livestock moving and sorting chores.

Most of the haying and hay feeding equipment used on the Wishbone ranches had custom improvements that Orville designed and fabricated. He was inventive with a welder and torch and it was rare that a piece of equipment had to be taken to town for repair. He received a patent for a hay stacking implement, and together with his sons, manufactured and marketed the Wishbone calf puller to cattle producers across the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states.

Orville moved to town for the first time in his life in the fall of 2000 when he and Joan dispersed the cow herd and retired to live in Valentine. He authored and self-published the book “Against the Current” in 2009 which colorfully details his life-experiences as a rancher and self-made man.

Orville’s younger brothers Norman and George preceded him in death. His wife Joan passed away from cancer in 2008.

He is survived by his youngest brother the Rev. Francis (Dr. Linda) Beyea, Ames, IA; younger sisters Elizabeth Vrooman, Poulson, MT and Carolyn Tubbs, Santee, CA; sister-in-law Helen Frederick, North Platte, NE; sons Kurt (Evelyn), Elmore City, OK and Kyle (Jerri), Gothenburg, NE; daughter Dr. Louise (Robert Cragin), Superior, WI; six grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Due to limitations imposed by the viral pandemic, a funeral will not be held. His cremains will be interred at Ft. McPherson National Cemetery near Maxwell, NE and a memorial service will be conducted at a later date. An online guest book is available at www.HolmesFH.com.

Orville’s children extend special thanks to Sally Conner and staff at Cherry Hills Estates, and to Cassandra Schill, PA-C, and the nursing staff at Cherry County Hospital.

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