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Jerry Penry To Hold Book Signing On July 4 In Stuart

Jun 26, 2024 (0)

The story of Stuart's silver fox ranch was uncovered by accident while researching for another upcoming book about a century-old murder mystery that nearly bankrupted Holt County. 

Jerry Penry is a native of Atkinson and has been living in the Lincoln area for the past forty years where he works as Nebraska's Deputy State Surveyor. His writing began in 1991 when he wrote about several Atkinson businessmen's failed attempt to build a railroad to Butte. "That was pre-Internet days," points out Penry. The research necessary for that endeavor was mind-boggling when he reflects back at the many days painstakingly researching newspapers on microfilm at the State Historical Society. In those early days, you found an article and then you had to have an employee print it out for you which added up in cost. 

In the late 1990's, he interviewed dozens of WWII army air corps veterans and attended their 8-17 bomber reunions which resulted in publishing "The Sunrise Serenade" in 2000. Penry says that was really his first book that was done in a professionally bound publication. He was having difficulty finding a publisher for the book, so decided he could do it himself and founded Blue Mound Press on January 1, 2000. Years later, in 2009, he published the previously untold story of Nebraska's WWII training accidents which took the lives of 243 airmen. That book was over 300 pages and required the travel of over 15,000 miles to research each of the sixty crash sites. The author has altogether written eight historical books and does everything himself except for the actual printing which he contracts out to be done. He states it was a lot of learning with the process of copyrighting, bar codes, ISBN numbers and contacting the Library of Congress. The real challenge is getting the images inserted with the text to fit just right so everything balances.

The silver fox ranch story became intriguing to Penry because no one seemed to know much about it. He admits he initially never intended to write a book about it, but the more he learned the more he knew he had to share this story with others. It took place during an era where things were viewed much differently than today. Raising animals for the sole purpose of killing them for their fur didn't seem to bother very many people. In fact, nearly every woman dreamed of having a silver fox coat to show they were someone important even if they could not afford it. It was big money being made and spent and Stuart became nationally known as the largest silver fox farm in the entire Midwest. Another revelation in this story is what happened to Holt County's thousands of horses that were no longer needed when gasoline tractors became the preferred method for use in farming and haying operations. Penry says there is no way society would tolerate this taking place today, but as far as he could determine, everyone thought the fox farm was a neat place to visit. Another historical aspect is how the Blizzard of 1949 played a critical role into the story. It all ties together into one very interesting story that he decided needed to be shared. The author says he completed this book at a critical time since all of the three children of Norris and Edna Coats are still living. For nearly three quarters of a century, the Coats' name in Stuart was synonymous with the store they had on Main Street as well as them being associated with the silver fox ranch.

With the declining population of many rural towns like Stuart, Penry points out there might never be another time in the local history that gives the community something to call attention as being unique to only them. Therefore, it becomes even more important to look to the past for that identity and for the youth to learn their local history first before expanding outward. Once you get to learn and understand history at the local level, it becomes much easier studying it at the state, national and worldwide level. 

Penry will kick off the new publication with a book signing at Stuart's White Horse Museum on the 4th of July from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. It's a great place to visit and something to do after the parade and before the fireworks begin. A silver fox pelt made into a stole will be available to see and touch as well as a display of wire netting that was actually used at the ranch. The author's website is at


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