From his longtime home on the banks of the river, 'Bucs' Dinges recounts his tale



By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

SCHOENCHEN -- Gilbert Dinges adapts, no matter the situation facing him.

He's adapted and beat cancer. He's beat an accident involving a tractor rolling over, requiring several surgeries in a short period of time.

He's even adapted his name, although he's quick to point out that few people might know him by his given name.

But people will sure know him as "Bucs" Dinges, never mind it started out as "Bugs," after a sharp pool player from years ago.

"Most of them call me Bucs now," he said of his friends. "That wasn't the way it was."

Through all that, he's kept a strong sense of humor, not to mention work ethic and loyalty to his family and friends.

And he's made it to 85 years old.

"Soon to be 86," he said. "But I shouldn't have to worry; I may not make it."

For virtually all of that time, he's lived in the Schoenchen area, growing up on the banks of the Smoky Hill River. Those four missing years were spent farming in the Lexington, Neb., area.

"My dad got to where he couldn't do anything and he begged me to come back," Dinges said.

His brother Jim lived on the farm their grandfather had homesteaded.

"He finally packed up and left," he said. "He said, 'I'm going to starve.' "

Dinges, along with his wife, Freda, didn't just farm.

"I did about anything known to mankind," he said.

He cut trees for a living.

He attended every farm sale he could, buying something from every one.

"I'd bring it home and cut it up and sell it to the people who do that," he said. "I had no fear of nothing. I'd do anything to make a buck."

He even dabbled a bit in buying land, when prices were agonizingly low in the early 1980s.

Despite his time in the Army, along with five other brothers, he's not keen on war.

"There's such a thing as protecting the country," he said. "But I don't know why we can't get along."

His tour in the Army fell during World War II.

"We were six brothers in the second world war," he said. "They all came home alive, but they're all dead now. My mother was known to say, 'my brave boys.' "

He got married soon after arriving back from the war.

One of his ventures was Rock Haven, a spot where music reigned and teens came to visit.

He was raising pigs when Rock Haven was born, but pigs weren't making any money.

"Rock Haven," he said, "that was the greatest thing I ever did. I brought bands in that cost me $12,000.

"If you ever wanted a challenge, deal with 3,000 to 4,000 kids at one time. I always said they were throwing their money away and I was catching it."

Rock Haven closed after four years, following issues with law enforcement, claiming Dinges was selling beer to minors.

He stopped short of denying that, but said he doesn't agree with the laws as they are written.

"I don't want them to be an alcoholic, but they want to drink a beer or two," he said. "They're never going to stop drinking. They're never going to do that."

He sold Rock Haven, buying a liquor store in Schoenchen.

Despite that ownership, Freda Dinges had to run it.

"The state came out and said he can't own a liquor store and be mayor," she said of her husband serving as mayor of Schoenchen.

"He's lived his life," Freda Dinges said of her husband of almost 62 years. "He was a hard worker and he was a hard partier. He never drank at work. He never drank at home, unless someone was here."

"I only had 30 days of high school," Dinges said. "I learned one thing. And that is dance. And I still do that faithfully."

They don't dance as much as they used to, but they were the frequent leaders of wedding marches in Schoenchen.

"He's had fun all his life," Freda said.

"Never a dull moment," he added.

They have three children, all of whom still live in the area.

"They're all here in Hays," she said. "I never let them move away."