James Kenneth and Ethel Powell
"Kenny" was born March 3, 1900 in Palisade, Nebraska. to Hiram and Bell Powell. On November 11, 1923 he married Ethel A. Smalley, a former teacher in the Palisade schools. Kenny had worked in the Palisade theater during high school. Kenny partnered with J.A. Hughes of Denver, and together they bought the Wray theater from Myrtle Blanchard. It was located in the Blanchard building on Third Street.
The Powells came to Wray in 1933. Later the Powell-Hughes partnership bought the Yuma theater and the Midway Theater in Burlington. They built a new theater in Yuma in 1938 and in 1950 built the new Cliff Theater.
In 1952 Hughes sold his interest in the theaters to Dr. Frank Rider of Wauneta, Nebraska. In 1959 they sold the Cliff Theater to Sam Amendola, and turned the management of the Yuma Theater to Lyle Myers.
Kenny served as mayor of Wray, and was president of the low-income housing project.
1971 Margaret SULLIVAN with Kenny and Ethel
Summer 1975 -
"Powells' porch - (Sullivan house hidden) and Kitzmiller's "
Patrick Sullivan writes of his memories of the Powells
"Their one story brick bungalow was next door to ours.... I would amble across our front yard, jump down the little cement embankment dividing the properties, and go for visits with Ethel and Ken. I would assume at age five then in 1943 - a mature manner as best I could. I felt older in the company of Ken and Ethel. They had no children. I did not know any other couple in Wray in 1943 who did not have children. Ken and Ethel Powell were my 'second parents' and years later I would be able to see their importance in my life.
The Powell's house had a big front porch. As the years went by, my brothers and sister and I would pose there for Ken's camera, would enjoy the seat swing suspended on one side, would spend time listening to their many friends. Ken was one of the town fathers. He was a sportsman. He was from western Nebraska not far from Wray, which was almost in Nebraska itself. I could tell that Ken kept friends. It was wartime, but his generation was too old to be soldiers.
Ken owned the town movie theatre. My brother Dan and I saw our first film there: SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. That was on a cold winter afternoon. The popcorn vendor's brightly-lit little wagon stood in the street outside the theatre. The gaiety of the colors, the thick smell of the popcorn, the steam rising above the music of the popping - a small spectacle of carnival pleasure. Inside the theatre a giant man stood immobile on the screen. He held a sign which read 'WELCOME.' I could not understand how the man got to be so gigantic. I wanted to understand the mechanics of film that first time.
From the Powells' porch we Sullivan kids could see the procession of combines, cattle trucks, cars and trucks and tractors and other farm machinery through town on our Third Street, the main east-west road. We kids saw as well across the street 'the Sullivan place,' a big Victorian type house where our father lived when he was a young child. I could never picture my father in that house, Dad never spoke of it, never spoke of the Wray of his childhood. I remember a succession of families renting the house, and becoming friends with a kid who lived there.. But the inside was unknown, and dark.
The Powells house was modest and cozy and inviting. It smelled good and with the absence of children the house had a quietness I found remarkable At the desk in the living room I could fiddle with the pens and pencils kept in a round receptacle. I would often be reminded to tidy up after spreading them out or reading the names of the companies on those pens and pencils. I could picture a world of commerce and correspondence coming from that supply. I liked being alone there. I could play at that desk for hours. My time there held such enjoyment and power. I did not know why.
I was never really alone there. Ken would be fixing a fishing rod or puttering around with some chore in the basement. Ethel would be cooking or sewing or 'doing the books.' Their talk was easy, she the more subdued. Ethel often laughed loudly at something Ken would say. They spent a lot of time together. My parents seemed in separate worlds, and their talk reserved, in comparison to the Powells. I liked being the kid - the only kid - in the Powell house.
Ken and Ethel were friendly with our mother and father, but they were especially friendly with us kids- Patrick and Dan and Terry and then near the end of our years in Wray, the first girl, Cathy. The Powells went to church occasionally, but for the most part appeared indifferent to things religious. They were avid card players, loved to drive here and there for meals and visits with friends. They seemed to me to have a special gift for making life feel good and companionable and to be contented and relaxed in ways that my mother and father were not. Ken always had a fine new car, after 1945, that is, and Ken also had, after 1945, an airplane!
When the war ended in 1945 the farmers and ranchers in the Wray area found they had made lots of money and many bought themselves a small one-engine plane. There must have been twenty-five of them at the little airport out north of town with its dirt runway and ragged wind-sock. Kenneth owned an Aircoups, a sleek aluminum two-seater with the wings below the cockpit. Ken did not give Dan and me our first plane ride, though. Gale Rodgers did The door on the passenger side would not stay shut, and I faulted Gale for not caring about that. I could sense that Gale was wild. In 1946 he and a German farmer from Idalia, Fritz Brenner, were killed when Gale nosedived his T6 Army trainer into the ground. I learned that their bodies had been 'pulverized.' That word stuck in my throat when at night, I dutifully remembered the two men in my prayers, Gale was giving Fritz his first plane ride.
Gale Rodgers had the fitful gaiety and charmof a dissolute uncle, with Kenny Powell I would never tire of his calm, self-assurance, guiding maturity, composure, humor, and endless array of interests and activities. Just after I turned nine we Sullivans moved to California. I sat in the Powells' kitchen and said goodbye. I knew I would see them again. Ethel was tearful but smiling, Kenneth gentle and kidding. I would indeed be back, but under what circumstances I could not have imagined.
Summer of 1954 -The night train rocks back and forth as it heads east from Denver towards Wray. I'm sixteen and on my way to visit Ethel and Ken for several weeks. I try to read FATHERS AND SONS, don't understand it, and by the time the train reaches Fort Morgan I was too drowsy to continue. The air in the train has grown musty, and I sweat in the dry heat. Anxious not to fall asleep and miss my stop, I study the towns as they roll by: Brush Akron, Otis, and Yuma. At Yuma my heart beats faster. The train slips throught Eckley and soon we are slowing down for Wray. The night is moonless, star-bright. The heat holds the air close. I ready myself to disembark, the only passenger for Wray.
Ken and Ethel are waiting there at the bottom of those steep stairs. They greet me warmly and lead me to their new car, an Oldsmobile convertible with the top down. The movie theatre, a new one since we Sullivans moved, is still open and right up Main Street from the train station. I take it in for the first time. And I meet Sam Amendola who works for the Powells. He is a smiling, friendly man. I immediately like him for his easy charm, his shy courtesy, and his self-evident appreciation of Ken and Ethel.
After checking in at the Cliff Theatre, the Powells and I go for a night ride. The air begins to cool as we drive around, all three of us in the wide front seat. They recall the changes in Wray since the Sullivans left in late summer 1947.(I was back once before, in 1950, with my mother, brothers, sister, and new baby Maggie). I remembered how Kenny had the task of burying my puppy Puddy who'd been hit by a car, how I hadn't gone fishing since leaving Wray, and how nobody could make homemade ice cream like Kenny. And I note how much I would like a ride in the Aircoupe once again. Ken and Ethel tell stories 'on' the Sullivan kids and bring me up to date on the families I knew when we lived in town - the Conrads and the Bullards, the Buchanans and the Houtz's, the Goodmans and Barkmeirs and Lockwoods. I ask about Michael Lambert, a kid close to my age whom I hadn't seen since leaving Wray and whose dad was in the military. And I asked about Spencer Lockwood, my former best friend whose father was the town mortician. Anne Lockwood was Spencer's younger sister and once got lost in a scary sandstorm with my brother Terry. I ask about Father Korb, the pastor of the little Catholic Church in Wray where I made my First Communion.
Ken, Ethel, and I come back from the Cliff Theatre around midnight, and settle around the kitchen table for conversation, sardines, crackers with butter and radishes from the garden. This is the Powells new house next door to the old bungalow. They moved an old one story house to the vacant lot, remodeled and expanded it just after we Sullivans moved to California. It is a hot, dry home. Have my own room with attached bath. The days are usually taken up with chores around the theatre or a day off for fishing with Ken. During the conversation this night I mention the plane, Ken's Aircoupe, the aluminum bodied low-wing beauty. He tells me he hasn't taken her up in some time. The talk shifts to another topic.
I have my own room at the Powells, the guest room in the front off the living room, with its own bath. From the front window I can see teh Sullivan place as well as the side street which rises slowly southward and where we'd delight in sledding in the winter as kids. Now on this street Wray has its small hospital. I love those Wray mornings the summer of 1954. The peacefulness of the house, the full breakfasts and the talks with Ethel and Ken. I awake some mornings just to stare out the front window. From the bathroom window I can see teh backyard to the trees that border the little gentle North Fork of the Republican River where I caught my first trout (what a proud day that was!).
One morning out the front window I see Anne Lockwood, now a young woman, and before, the constant companion of my younger brother Terry. This summer we would sometimes meet at the Cliff Theatre and for both of us there is embarrassed silence and awkward gestures. I am as shy a teenager as one can find. Ethel takes note of this but never makes me more afraid of myself than I already am. I feel happy and relaxed this summer in Wray, and during the school year in California I tell Mom and Dad I want to return to Wray the following summer and work at the theatre and learn how to become a projectionist.
So the next July, now seventeen, I take the train east again from Denver and spend much of that summer working with the Powells. One time Ken and I go to Denver on a business trip and I become infamous as a very big cabbie tipper, and we go to the horse races and my final bet is the only successful one of teh evening.... but that's another story. I work at the theatre most every night. Ken and Sam Amendola teach me the job of projectionist. I love the work. The first night I am on my own in the booth I miss the first 'change-over' (from one projector to the other, starting one and stopping the other) and Ken smilingly has to come up and help me. The name of the film: THE MAN FROM LARAMIE. I am surprisingly resilient and figure that's how one learns. Another mishap I do not take so well. One day out at Bonny Dam some thirty miles south of Wray I am allowed to drive the pickup truck to the spot where the best fishing is. Ken ahs warned me not to go off the narrow dirt road. But just as we get to the edge of the water, eager to park, I pull off. Instantly the front tires sink into the mud above the hubcaps. It is hours before a tractor comes and with an iron chain pulls out the truck. No matter how cheerful or amused Ken is that afternoon, I sulk in pure self-contempt.
But most of the time wherever we are I am richly happy. There at Bonny Dam Lake I learn how to flycast and catch a good share of bass and bluegill. The men I get to know are long-time friends, with the exception of Sam Amendola who moved to Wray after World War II. I witness their effortless flow of language that goes nowhere beyond spending a lovely day outdoors fishing together. Their politics and experience might seem parochial from a suburban California perspective. But Ken and Ted and David and Denny and Ned and Sam all share a day together in a manner which make these other matters lose a final significance. The fish are cleaned, the ire made, the crackers and beans passed around, and the sun sets to the tunes of different bird calls. I raise my camera for pictures of the splendid last rays as they stream over the calm water of Bonny Lake."
The athletic field at Wray High School
Sam Amendola making ravioli
In 1984 Bruce and Connie Palmrose bought the Cliff from Sam Amendola