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Nebraska County Countdown 73: Gosper County & the Ballad of Robert DeFruiter

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1941 Nebraska vs. Stanford Via

Welcome to Gosper County! Smack dab in between Frontier and Phelps counties and right in the heart of south central Nebraska. Let me tell you folks, we have a lot in store for you today.

The county is named after John J. Gosper who was the Secretary of State of Nebraska from 1873 to 1875. A veteran of the American Civil War from Illinois and Ohio, Gosper fought for the United States in their win over the southern rebellion. During which he lost his left leg in battle. After the war he came back to Illinois before heading west. He spent roughly 5 years in the state before leaving for the Arizona Territory. I guess that’s enough time to warrant a county being named after you.

Gosper county is blessed to have not one but TWO towns in it’s boarders. Well, they are both technically villages in the eyes of the Nebraska state government. What is a village you ask? How is it different than a town or city? I can’t believe that we have made it this far in our county countdown and no one has brought this up.

So, what constitutes a village? According to State Statute Chapter 17 Section 201:

1) Any municipality containing not less than one hundred nor more than eight hundred inhabitants as determined by the most recent federal decennial census or the most recent revised certified count by the United States Bureau of the Census incorporated as a village under the laws of this state, any village that votes to retain village government as provided in section 17-312, and any city of the second class that has adopted village government as provided by sections 17-306 to 17-309 shall be a village and shall have the rights, powers, and immunities granted by law to villages. The population of a village shall consist of the people residing within the territorial boundaries of such village and the residents of any territory duly and properly annexed to such village.
(2) Whenever a majority of the inhabitants of any village, not incorporated under any laws of this state, present a petition to the county board of the county in which the petitioners reside, requesting that they may be incorporated as a village and designating the name they wish to assume and the metes and bounds of the proposed village, and a majority of the members of such county board are satisfied that a majority of the inhabitants of the proposed village have signed such petition and that inhabitants to the number of one hundred or more are actual residents of the territory described in the petition, the county board shall declare the proposed village incorporated, enter the order of incorporation upon its records, and designate the metes and bounds of such village. Thereafter the village shall be governed by the provisions of law applicable to the government of villages. The county board shall, at the time of the incorporation of the village, appoint five persons, having the qualifications provided in section 17-203, as the village board of trustees, who shall hold their offices and perform all the duties required of them by law until the election and qualification of their successors at the time and in the manner provided in section 17-202, except that the county board shall not declare a proposed village incorporated or enter an order of incorporation if any portion of the territory of such proposed village is within five miles of another incorporated municipality.

So, there you go. Elwood, the county seat, has roughly 707 residence residing in it’s boarders and is thus a village. Smithfield has roughly 54 people residing in it so that’s also....wait a minute. I’m guessing that the county board believes that Smithfileld is enough of a village to be considered one. Because let’s be honest, the “unincorporated” under the city name on the sign going into town is kind of a bummer when you think about it. I applaud Smithfield for keeping their village status alive.

More on the wonderful town of Smithfiled. It is the birthplace of one of greatest halfbacks to ever play for the scarlet and cream, Bob DeFruiter. He was born in Smithfield on June 3rd 1918. The last year of World War I if you are keeping up with history here. A great year to be born as his birth most likely helped our country heal from that global skirmish.

Bobby was a part of the famed class of 1939 for NU. That class was special as it also brought in the likes of Edgar Haynes, Francis Leik, and of course Jerome Prochaska. That class went 22-18 in their four years and won the Big Six conference championship their sophomore year. They were also part of the team that gave Nebraska their first bowl trip in 1940. That year the Huskers played in the Rose Bowl where they were stomped by Stanford 21-13.

Now that I think of it, it really wasn’t that special of a class. In fact, they got worse every year after ‘40. Anyway, back to Bob.

Bob entered the United States Air Force after World War II broke out. He even saw some playing time while in the service for the 4th Air Force Flyers in California. I can only imagine what he was like to go up against on the football field once he was in the service. The time he spent playing in Memorial Stadium must have created a wrecking ball of a man.

Bob ended up playing in the NFL for a few years after the war. His 5’11” 178lb frame took him to the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, and the Los Angeles Rams.

I has been hard finding much information on Bob after his playing days were over though I am sure if I try a little bit harder than one night searching I could probably find something. He passed away on January 12th, 2000 in Corpus Christi, Texas and was laid to rest at Fort McPherson National Cemetery outside of Maxwell, NE.

So there you go, Gosper County! “The Burgundy Rose of the Great Plains”