Tony Herrman For Red Cloud, saying bye to ‘Mom’ tough

Like just about everyone in Red Cloud, I was blown away when I heard the news Barb Sprague died Thursday. Anytime I was in Red Cloud to cover something, Barb was there.

It seemed like I never reported on a story in Red Cloud without Barb being nearby. She was involved in everything.

She was right up there with Red Cloud Chief editor Harriet Zade as someone I called for Red Cloud news.

That’s what Barb’s friends told me, too, when I spoke with them Thursday afternoon and Friday morning for a story remembering Barb’s life and her dedication to Red Cloud.

Her influence was obvious. I was told about a special assembly in which high school principal Marlyn Washburn had to tell students about Barb’s death. Both students and staff were in tears.

After reading my article, a co-worker pointed out the significance of that; a school called a special assembly to tell students that a woman who was never officially a teacher was gone.

“That says a lot about her, and it says a lot about what it means to live in a small town,” he said.

Robin Peterson, a Red Cloud High school guidance counselor and longtime friend of Barb’s, described her as “wise, intelligent, caring and compassionate.”

“She would kind of become everyone’s mother and try and take care of everybody,” she said. “She was always trying to take care of everybody.”

To a certain degree, Robin said, Barb filled that role for her after her parents died.

I experienced that maternal quality firsthand, when I was covering an event once at the Starke Round Barn southeast of Red Cloud.

Because I didn’t have any cash on hand, Barb offered to buy my lunch after I was done reporting.

I awkwardly said yes, and then even more awkwardly tried to leave without Barb noticing. As I was driving through the parking lot, making my getaway, a woman wearing khakis, sunglasses and a bob haircut ran after my car and made me take $10.

The sender’s name in her emails was “Mom.”

That was especially confusing to me because Barb is my own mother’s name. I wondered why my mom, who lives in Texas, would be emailing me about what was going on in Red Cloud.

Barb Sprague sent me a couple emails to thank me for stories I’d recently written. One was a bluegrass jam at the round barn and one was coverage of an open house meeting at the Red Cloud Opera House where representatives from the Nebraska Department of Roads discussed a proposal to pave over the bricked streets in downtown Red Cloud.

Saving those brick streets was one of Barb’s many passions. Membership on the Red Cloud Brick Street Committee was a small part of a long paragraph in Barb’s obituary listing all of her activities.

In her email to me about that story, which she kindly called “terrific,” she wrote, “Now we need to convince the Feds and the State that we want and need the bricks as the main street surface.”

I knew Barb just a handful of years and couldn’t think about Red Cloud without thinking of her. I can only imagine what the feeling of loss is like for people who lived there and knew Barb for decades.

Judging by what Robin told me, I don’t think they do, either.

“It’s just going to be weird not to have her around,” she said.

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