‘She was Seward’

Cattle remembered for influence on community, state of Nebraska


The matriarch of Seward’s Cattle family lived to be 102.

That in itself is an accomplishment, but Virginia Cattle accomplished so much more, mainly by being a never-ending inspiration to those around her.

Cattle died June 3, 2023, and a memorial service was held Sept. 16, just a few days before what would have been her 103rd birthday.

Born Virginia Clarke to Dr. H.D. and Gladys Clarke, Cattle lived in Seward all her life, except for the nine months she spent in North Carolina with her husband, John W. Cattle, Sr., who was stationed in the military.

“And only in four houses, two on Eighth Street, the farm, and where she lived on Fifth Street,” said her daughter, Becky Vahle of Seward.

Growing up with Cattle as her mother was fun, Vahle said.

“She never worked outside the home, so she was always there when I got home from school,” she said. “My friends would come over. We’d build all our floats and stuff.”

Vahle’s older brother, John W. Jr., known as Jay, was born in 1943 during their father’s deployment. The two Johns didn’t meet until the youngest was 2.

Cattle lived with her mother during that time so she had help with the baby.

“At that time, everybody was going through that,” Vahle said.

Born in 1920, Cattle lived through the Great Depression, advancements in technology and 19 different presidents.

“She always wanted to know what was happening in the news,” Vahle said. “I would have thought she would have had more stories about how things were. They lived here in town and had all the amenities, so they never had to suffer, but she lived through the war and the Depression.”

Cattle’s hunger for learning and building relationships stuck with her until she passed.

“She had a wide variety of ages of friends. That’s kind of what kept her young,” Vahle said.

One of those friends, Nancy Eitel, met Cattle about 23 years ago after she and her husband moved to Seward.

It was Cattle who helped them learn about their new community.

“She was Seward. She shared so much Seward history,” Eitel said.

The Eitels took Cattle to church at Seward United Methodist nearly every Sunday for the past 10 years.

“She loved being at church, and everybody loved seeing her there,” Eitel said. “She’s been a member there her entire life.”

Cattle taught Sunday school classes for years and was involved in anything that would benefit the church.

She was well-known for her role in starting the Four Seasons Bazaar at the church, first suggesting the idea for the Christmas holiday in 1952 as a way to raise money for needs that weren’t in the church budget.

“People make and donate whatever they want. Every year it just grew and grew,” Eitel said.

The bazaar reached 70 years in 2022 and is still going strong. Cattle still attended the bazaar to shop last fall.

“She was one of the leaders of it, and many women over the years have gotten involved,” Eitel said.

Over the decades, Cattle contributed countless pieces of original artwork to the bazaar.

“She was quite a talented artist. It started out with her painting chairs with Santa faces and old ironing boards. I have one that’s a snowman. She would paint on spoons,” Eitel said.

The focal point of one wall in Cattle’s apartment at Kinship Pointe was a detailed pencil drawing she created of the original church building.

Eitel was part of trio of women who would visit Cattle every other Wednesday for lunch. They talked and ate in her second bedroom, which Cattle had turned into a dining room.

Another group visited on Tuesdays.

“We’d sit down and have a little refreshment and have a good chat while knitting and sewing and crocheting, working on bazaar projects,” said Juanita Hill, a close friend of Cattle’s.

The discussion spanned a range of topics, with Cattle wanting to know everything that was going on in the world – from the death of Queen Elizabeth II to what was happening on the courthouse lawn.

“She was very civically minded. She was concerned that the downtown was doing well,” Hill said. “She didn’t allow herself to get closed up in her own little world.”

Cattle’s civic involvement stretched to all corners of the state as she accompanied her husband on bank visits while he served as president of the Nebraska Bankers Association.

Though she never worked at Cattle Bank and Trust, founded in Seward by the Cattle family 150 years ago, she served on the bank’s board of directors.

“She was on the board for 51 years and, to my knowledge, never missed a meeting,” said Ryne Seaman, the first non-family member to serve as president and CEO of the bank. “She took that responsibility very seriously.”

Seaman lived next door to the Cattles for 15 years. He remembered the day he interviewed for a job at the bank. Cattle sat in on the interview with her husband, John, and kids Jay and Becky, who were also part of the bank.

“She told me after the fact that her husband asked what she thought and she gave him two thumbs up,” Seaman said, “so I owe her for being here.”

Seaman said Cattle always seemed most comfortable on her husband’s arm, yet she lived as a widow for nearly 24 years after he died.

“It gives me comfort knowing that she has now reunited with her husband in heaven,” he said.

He will remember her zest and zeal for life.

“I will never forget the first time she rolled down Fifth Street in her brand new 1995 emerald green convertible with the top down, sunglasses on and scarf tied around her neck, waving at me and my family,” Seaman said. “This was when she was a mere 75 years of age, young. She always had the spirit of a younger person.”

In addition to her service with the bank, Cattle belonged to the Questers, an organization that promoted a love of antiques and heritage. She helped coordinate their state convention in Seward.

She and her husband collected antique scales and were part of the International Society of Antique Scale Collectors.

“They traveled and made friendships far and wide that way,” Hill said. “Before she died, she had made arrangements for some people who were interested in some of the scales they had to come take a look so they could be passed on to someone who would appreciate them.”

She also served as a Bluebird and Campfire leader, was a member of P.E.O. Chapter CC and the Memorial Health Care Systems Auxiliary, and she delivered Meals on Wheels for three years.

She was awarded the 2023 Nebraska’s Friend Award and was chosen to be the 2023 Grand Marshal of Seward’s Fourth of July parade, which she attended in spirit.

Hill said the last year was difficult for Cattle, as she lost her granddaughter, then her son, both in 2022.

“She would say, ‘Why not me?’ I told her her work here must not be done, that she still had something she needed to do,” Hill said. “She would say, ‘What would I need to be doing?’ Inspiring us. Because she did.”