All Shenandoahans past & present are pausing in gratitude for three MVPs of Shen High sports.

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

SHENANDOAH, Iowa, May 7, 2024 – The big gathering this past Sunday afternoon in the party room of the Depot Restaurant and Lounge in my ol’ hometown was as happy as a 76th birthday celebration darned well ought to be.  And yet, everybody attending admitted to a little sadness, too.

We sang a boisterous “Happy Birthday” to Arthur Bueker in honor of his 76th.  Cancer and heart trouble have him in very fragile health now.  His speech is a whisper.  But the twinkle is still in his eyes when family and friends are around him, and his spirit was strong on Sunday.

It was also an opportunity for many of us to offer our condolences to the family after the death of older brother Ardel, who died at the age of 81 on Feb. 25.

Younger brothers Gerald Bueker, 74, of Aurora, Colorado, and Ron Hansen, 72, were gracious to all who came for Arthur’s big day and to honor their whole family.  Hansen, who has dealt his whole life with a congenital heart problem, has had recent health problems, too.

Birthday cake Arthur & Ron.jpg

Arthur Bueker receives a cake for his 76th birthday, with his brother Ron Hansen standing behind him.

The three brothers who lived in Shenandoah nearly their whole lives – Ardel, Arthur and Ron – have long been favorites in this southwest Iowa community of 4,800.

And that’s why I now want to share the story I wrote in 2013 about them and their family.  They were being honored then by the Iowa Football Coaches Association for their service of 50 years – each had served that long – as equipment managers and more of Shenandoah High School sports.  Fifty years!  And they continued their service another couple years after the award.

The story was published then in the “KMAland Advantage Club Newsletter,” which was a feature on the website of radio station KMA in Shenandoah. 

Honestly, among all the stories I’ve written, it’s one of my favorites.

“The brothers” – Ardel, Arthur Bueker & Ron Hansen

In Shenandoah sports, they’re really “the franchise”

By CHUCK OFFENBURGER

SHENANDOAH, Iowa, Feb. 22, 2013 – In the past half century, hundreds of athletes, dozens of coaches, several athletic directors, lots of sportswriters, broadcasters and an army of fans have come and gone on the sports scene at Shenandoah High School.  But there’s a tie that binds them all – brothers Ardel & Arthur Bueker and Ron Hansen.

In fact, “the brothers,” as so many across the region think of them, are really “the franchise” when it comes to sports here.  They have been equipment managers, timers, scorebook keepers, score reporters, drivers, cheerleaders, butt-kickers, coaches, confidantes and worries about Shenandoah sports since 1963.  That’s when a very young Ron Hansen first stepped up and started helping in the programs, with Arthur and Ardel Bueker starting soon after (and you pronounce their last name “Beeker”).

Next month, they’re going to be recognized for their 50 years of service when the Iowa Football Coaches Association gives them the organization’s “Distinguished Service Award” at a convention in Iowa City.  University of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is scheduled to join in their recognition. 

They were notified of the award in a letter from IFCA executive secretary Ken Winkler, a Hamburg native and former coach at Essex and Treynor who is now at West Marshall of State Center. “Congratulations!” Winkler wrote. “Only people with unselfish respect for students and communities would be willing to do what you have done.”

Brothers Ron Ardel & Arthur in 2013.JPG

Brothers Ron Hansen, Ardel Bueker and Arthur Bueker in 2013.

They were nominated by former Shenandoah football coach P.J. Hedrington, who is now at Kuemper Catholic in Carroll and who serves on the IFCA’s awards committee.

“I knew about the brothers before I came to Shenandoah,” Hedrington said.  “I had seen them at sporting events while I was at Clarinda Academy.  However, I didn’t know how much of an impact they had on Shenandoah athletics.  But these brothers aren’t just supportive of Shenandoah.  They hold a special place in their hearts for all southwest Iowa schools.  You are well aware of the rivalry between Shenandoah and Clarinda.  Well, the brothers showed up in Des Moines to support the Clarinda basketball team in the state tournament.  Mike Irvin, Clarinda’s AD, contacted me from up there and said, ‘The brothers are switching over!’ I laughed, knowing that would never happen.”

Indeed.  As current SHS activities director Bob Sweeney says, “They are true maroon & white.”  He adds that while fans see the Buekers and Hansen doing a lot at games, “they do a whole lot behind the scenes, too.  In fact, they’d do about anything to help kids in our programs.”

As new coaches and administrators arrive in Shenandoah – both Hedrington and Sweeney recently went through this – they learn fast that they’re expected to have a meeting with the brothers to share their plans.  Any coach or administrator who has ignored them, or has been dismissive toward them, hasn’t lasted long.

The brothers are not only a great source of information for newcomers; after all, they are good friends with rival sports figures all over the territory.  They are also living, breathing reminders to administrators, coaches, athletes and everybody else, about what’s really important in life.  You think it’s so difficult competing with Kuemper?  You think it’s really tough to beat Harlan? Well, that’s just good training in case you ever have to cope with the loss of beloved parents, deal with special learning challenges, fix a mal-formed heart, face cancer, work really physical day jobs, put up with poverty, and endure loneliness.

It’s no wonder, and no false front, that the Buekers and Hansen look happy when they’re at games of the Mustangs and Fillies.  They are happy then.  And actually, they’re happy most of the rest of the time, too.  They’re happy to be alive after the challenges they’ve faced individually and collectively.

“They certainly have had to deal with a lot of adversity in their lives,” said Gregg Connell, the executive director of the Shenandoah Chamber & Industry Association, who grew up with the brothers and often still checks on them.  “But they’ve made the best of what they got in life, too. And that’s what we should all try to do, isn’t it?”

Ron Hansen Ardel Bueker Arthur Bueker at house 2013.JPG

“The brothers” outside the family home on Crescent Street in 2013.

Ardel Bueker is 70 and Arthur Bueker is 64.  Their parents were Amel and Ella Mae Bueker, who in the 1940s had farms in the Oakland-Griswold area of southwest Iowa and between Boonville and St. Louis in Missouri.  Amel died a young man, in about 1950, of sunstroke and perforated ulcers after he over-did it in farm work.  He left behind Ella Mae, 7-year-old son Ardel, 2-year-old Arthur and baby brother Gerald Bueker.

Ella Mae and her young sons moved back to her hometown of Shenandoah, where before long, she married Hans Hansen.  He was born and raised for part of his childhood in Sweden, but he was eventually adopted by a family in Shenandoah.  He was married in the 1930s and had a daughter Darlene.  He was single again when he met Ella Mae Bueker and her boys.  They married, and in 1953, Ron Hansen was born – he’s now 61.

The Hansen family set up their home in Shenandoah on Crescent Street, in the same house where Arthur and Ron still live.  The two of them keep the place meticulously clean, and both use a treadmill in the living room, often while watching sports events on their side-by-side big screen TVs.  Ardel has his own place at Autumn Park apartments.  Gerald Bueker, now about 62, lives in Aurora, Colorado, after a career that has included military service in Vietnam, serving as an FBI agent, later working in insurance.  Darlene Hansen Carpenter, now 81, has lived in Red Oak the last 10 years after spending most of her life in Shenandoah.

As their children were growing up, Hans and Ella Mae Hansen for a time owned the Bogie Inn bar and grill in Shenandoah, a place known for occasionally serving lamb brains and for its ribald slogan, “You may boogie in, but you’ll stagger out!” For most of his career, Hans was a mechanic for the Williams Brothers auto dealership; he died in 1995.  Ella Mae worked at industrial plants in Red Oak, Shenandoah, and Nebraska City; she died in 2002.

The parents were strict, the brothers now say, and their maternal grandmother Maude Miller, who often babysat them, was even more strict.  “If we did something we weren’t supposed to,” said Ron, “she’d really give it to us, and then when our parents got home from work, they’d give it to us again. We got a lot of that double punishment for the same crime!”

Were the parents big sports fans, like their sons have been?  “Oh, not quite,” said Arthur. “But Dad would take us to football games, and watch games with us on TV.  Mom was more of a competitor herself.  She drove what they called ‘powder puff stock cars’ and raced at tracks at Playland Park in Council Bluffs, in Lincoln, Hamburg, Kansas City and all over.”

Ron Hansen was born with a hole in his heart, and by the time he was 7, “the hole was the size of a 50-cent piece,” he said. He had to have an extremely dangerous heart surgery at the University of Iowa Hospitals to repair it, and that has limited his physical activity the rest of his life.  His doctors tell him all the medication also affected his learning ability and speech. 

Arthur, late in his teen years, had thyroid cancer and in the surgery, one of his vocal chords was damaged, forever impacting his speech.  But he’s always been a hard worker and had a 40-year career doing field work in Shenandoah’s nurseries. 

As a boy Ardel had vision problems, extremely rapid physical development (he weighed 210 as a eighth grader!) and learning challenges in school.  After junior high, he left school and started a 35-year career in the nurseries.  Ardel has turned out to be the most active athlete among the brothers, although not until late in life.  In the past 14 years, he has become very successful in the sport of power walking, and he has won 22 medals in Special Olympics state competition and 25 titles in sub-state races.  All that activity has helped him cope with recent color cancer.

The brothers’ service to the Shenandoah schools’ sports programs began when the late George Haws was athletic director, and Arthur Bueker says from Haws to the present, the ADs “have all treated us well.”  He and his brothers cite especially close relationships with Duane Rexroth, Keith Meyer and Brian Goughnour in Shenandoah and retired Lewis Central AD Steve Padilla in Council Bluffs.  Padilla is married to Shenandoah native Barb Smith, and her father the late Gene Smith helped Ardel and Arthur get jobs in the nurseries.

Ron Hansen Personal Scoreboard as of 2013.JPG

Ron Hansen for years kept a personal “scoreboard” to keep track of how many Shenandoah High School games he had worked in different sports.  In early 2013, his total was 10,462.  That was a figure that at least two SHS athletic directors confirmed as probably accurate. “That’s a lot of games,” I said. Ron’s answer: “Sometimes it seems like one too many. But really, I still love doing it.  We all do.”

Most of what the Buekers and Hansen have done for the sports programs has been on a volunteer basis, although Ron Hansen gets paid when he runs the time clock at games.  Besides all their work, there’s been a whole lot of fun, too.

At football games, Ardel Bueker’s sprints from the sidelines to midfield and back, to retrieve the tees after kickoffs, have become fan favorites.  Former band director Al Greener made up a cheer that the band and cheerleaders began doing during those dashes for the tee: “A-R-DEL! Go, Ardel, go!”  And you still hear it at games.  Ardel’s solo dancing performances in front of the veteran rock ’n’ roll band “The Sharks,” generally when they are playing at the Depot Deli restaurant in Shenandoah, have also become legendary.  When he’s on the dance floor, he says the musicians always call him, “Rockin’ Ardie.”  He acknowledges that for just a few years, he did a little drinking. “Not anymore,” he adds. ‘I decided to get high on sports instead of alcohol.”

Arthur Bueker said that, since they are all such loyal Mustang fans, “it’s hard to be neutral and keep my mouth shut during games, but I’ve had a few officials remind me that I just have to do that when I’m sort of an official representative of the school.”  But away from the games, if he senses something is wrong, he can be vocal and tenacious in trying to get it resolved.  In 2010, when Shenandoah was winding up a third consecutive winless football season, he called me on the phone and just roared, “Can’t you do something?” And I wasn’t the only one getting his phone calls.  But there’s nothing like his warm & sunny greeting when times are good: “Hi, buddy!”

Ron Hansen has had the whole Shenandoah crowd cheering for him many times, especially back in the 1970s during basketball games with Lewis Central.  That school had a video manager “Big Ray” McManus, whom the brothers came to know well.  That led to halftime challenges, when Ron and Big Ray would have shooting contests from half-court, to the delight of fans from both schools.

He says there’s another career highlight for him — actually more of a lowlight, he admits.  In a Midget-league baseball game in Sidney in about 1970, he and Shenandoah coach Ray Graves both were ejected by an umpire.  I could hardly imagine that happening to the mild-mannered Graves, so I recently called him for confirmation or denial.

“That’s a fact,” Graves said. “You know, I think it was the only time I was disciplined by an official in my entire coaching career.” 

It seems Shenandoah third baseman John Connell (later the high school principal in Harlan) pulled the old “hidden ball trick” on a Sidney boy who had just hit a triple. Connell tagged him out, but the umpire ruled him safe.  “That started the rhubarb,” said Graves. “First I got tossed, and then Ronnie erupted.  The two of us got to watch the rest of the game together from the school bus.”

How long will the brothers keep their managers’ jobs with SHS sports? 

“As long as we’re able, and as long as they want us,” Arthur said. “None of us have ever got married and had kids of our own, so these high school kids are like our family.  And we love it when alumni come by our house, or stop us downtown, to see how we’re doing.  They’ll say something like, ‘You’re still doing it for the teams, aren’t you?’ ” 

Ardel says when he hears such comments, “that always brings tears to my eyes.”

Ron notes that “we’ve sure seen a lot of kids come and go,” and Arthur adds they’re “now helping the grandkids of the athletes we started out with.”  Ron says “sometimes the kids today will ask about when their parents or grandparents were in school, what they did, what they were like.  I always say ‘Sorry, we can’t tell old stories.’ ”

Chuck O and Arthur Bueker May 5 2024.jpg

Columnist Chuck Offenburger and “my buddy” Arthur Bueker after the birthday party Sunday, May 5, 2024.

You can comment on this column below or write the columnist directly by email at chuck@offenburger.com.

2 thoughts on “All Shenandoahans past & present are pausing in gratitude for three MVPs of Shen High sports.

  1. This beautiful tribute is one more story written as only Chuck Offenburger can write. Thank you for brightening my heart with your words while shining an even brighter light on these memorable brothers. I can only imagine how happy Arthur was to see you and hear you belt out “Happy Birthday,” as only Chuck Offenburger can do. Love from your biggest fan, Mary. (Please picture me sending you a “heart” sign with my fingers, just like Caitlin Clark does after every game.)

    • City - Des Moines
    • State - IA
  2. Thank you very much for your thoughtful and timely article. Everyone enjoyed your presence at Arthur’s Birthday celebration. (Arthur’s cancer has returned and is aggressively spreading to the point where his doctors have decided to discontinue his radiation treatments). However, the large turnout at his Birthday Party was the best medicine of all; it has lifted his spirits and will continue to do so and keep him positive for his remaining time with us. Thanks again to everyone who came.

    • City - Thornton
    • State - Colorado

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