Betty Jean Kraye, age 83, passed away unexpectedly on March 7, 2020. She was born August 5, 1936 in Mullen, Nebraska to Ernst Adolph and Lydia Helen (Jordan) Kraye. She was the middle child between brother, Fred, and sister, Nancy.
Betty had a free soul and was a hard worker. She lived her own life and took refuge in her love of God, the love of her family, her love of the Sandhills, her love of animals, and her love of America.
She lived her entire life in the Sandhills of Nebraska. Her childhood years were spent on the “home place” 13 miles southwest of Mullen. Growing up, Betty was a child of the hills. She and her sister Nancy lived to be outdoors, riding horses and teaching them tricks, camping in the hills, killing rattlesnakes, milking cows, and getting into mischief. Betty’s first horse was a pony named Spot. Later she had another pony named Candy. At 10 years old, Betty broke her favorite horse, Misty, to ride. Betty always dreamed of having a ranch of her own where she could ride her horses and have her own cattle herd.
She attended country school two miles east of the home place until the blizzard of 1949 when the country school closed. Betty and Nancy then attended school in Mullen from 8th to 12th grade, both graduating in 1954. Betty and Nancy attended college for a year at Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, NE (August 1954 to May 1955). However, being far away from home was difficult for the girls so the following year they attended college at Chadron State College where they graduated in May 1956 with their two-year teaching certificates.
Betty’s first teaching job was in Whitman, NE where she and Nancy both taught for three years (August 1956 to May 1959). Since they were the only two teachers, they played like Betty was the Superintendent and Nancy was the Principal. After teaching in Whitman, Betty started teaching at the Lackey School about 15 miles north of Whitman. She taught there for two years from August 1959 to May 1961. Then from September 1961 to May 1962, Betty taught at the Big Creek School, 20 miles North of Mullen.
It was during her teaching career that Betty met and married Robert (Bob) Murphy in McCook, NE on August 25, 1961. Betty and Bob eventually bought a place a mile west of Mullen where they made their home and raised their three children Kathy (1962), Kerry (1964), and Bert (1965). Betty was an amazing mother and managed raising her children mainly on her own. She instilled her love of horses, cattle and many other animals in her children. There were always dogs, cats, horses, cows and goats around providing hours of great fun and adventure. They raised chickens and Betty kept busy selling eggs, driving the school bus, along with being active in many community organizations.
When Betty’s kids got a little older, she started working on a ranch north of Mullen owned by Elsie Roth. Betty worked on Elsie’s ranch as her primary hired hand in exchange for allowing Betty to keep a few head of cattle out there. This was the start of a remarkable friendship between these two fiercely independent women and Betty’s children. Her work on the “all women’s ranch” was included in an article about the Sandhills of Nebraska in the October 1978 edition of the National Geographic magazine.
In 1974 Betty was able to purchase 80 acres of land 6 miles north of Mullen. It was on these 80 acres that Betty eventually established her home. In 1976, she married Lloyd Evans and to this union was born two daughters Dori (1977) and Nicki (1978). She and her children made their home on the “80”surrounded by the beautiful Sandhills. As a rancher and single mother there were always chores to do and work to be done but Betty insured her children participated in numerous school and community activities.
In the mid 80’s, Betty’s dream of having her own ranch finally came true when she managed to purchase a section of land just a few miles north of her home. Finally, she had enough land for her dogs, cats, goats, cattle & horses. The land was beautiful and perfectly located in a small valley with steep hills to the North, South and West. She decided to call it “Hopeful Valley Ranch” because she knew ranching was always a gamble and she had hope and relied on her faith in God trusting that everything would work out. On the ranch, Betty invested all her effort to create the ranch of her dreams. She witnessed many miracles on her ranch including the ranch’s survival of the 1999 Prairie Fire. Throughout the years on the ranch, Betty showed her kids, grandkids, exchange students, and countless others what it meant to work hard, care for animals, and to appreciate every breath of crisp clean air of the Sandhills and the taste the pure fresh water provided in God’s country.
Betty’s life was a living example of Ephesians 4:32 “And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgive one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.” And Mathew 7:1 “Judge not, that you not be judged”. Betty welcomed everyone into her life regardless of their background, who they were or where they came from. She was renowned for sharing stories of her life in the Sandhills. She had a heart of gold and would offer help and assistance to anyone in need. Betty was well known for picking up hitchhikers and inviting them to stay on her ranch if they needed a leg up. She embraced the exchange students that she hosted as her own children. And in her later years, she would strike up a conversation with any person she met, questioning if they had heard of the Sandhills and would share the National Geographic article with them.
Throughout her life Betty was a member of many organizations and participated in numerous activities. These included being a 4-H leader, Boy and Girl Scout helper, Camp Norwesca board member and summer camp counselor, very active member of the Methodist Women’s Society of Christian Service/United Methodist Women whose meetings she attended with her mom, Methodist Church Council, Sunday School Teacher, member of the Eastern Star, Legion Auxiliary, and Sandhills Sidesaddle Club. She helped start and managed the United Methodist Jumble Shop in Mullen, a secondhand store, and later in life helped start and worked at the Mullen Recycling Center.
Betty is survived by her sister, Nancy Kraye Meyer Laier of Eustis, NE; her five children and their spouses Kathy Murphy Buschkoetter (Darrel) of Lawrence, NE, Kerry Murphy Hurley of Denton, NE, Bert Murphy of Parker, CO, Dori Smidt (Matt) of Bennet, NE, and Nicki Bailey (Steven) of Palmyra, NE; Grandchildren, Kayla, Savannah (Justin), Samantha, Phillip, Nicole (Jason), Katrina (Brandon), Christopher, David, Max, Teanna, John, Jawaun, Katelyn, Rochelle, Samuel, Alexa, Daisa, Kameron, Maci, Denzel, Olivia, Nathan, and Jordan; Great Grandchildren, Payton, Noah, Myah, Isabella, Kahleesi, Dexter, Breanna, Lilliana, and Gracie; numerous nieces, nephews, and many wonderful friends.
Betty was preceded in death by her parents (Ernst & Helen), brother and sister-in-law (Fred & Teresa Kraye), Spouses (Robert Murphy, Lloyd Evans), great grandson, Owen Murphy-Pritchard, and good friend, Elsie Roth.
Please join us in celebrating her life, Friday morning March 13, 2020, at 10:30am (Mountain Time) at the Mullen United Methodist Church. Visitation will be Thursday, March 12, 2020 from 4:00 -6:00pm (Mountain Time) at the Mullen Funeral Home. Memorials will be designated to the Mullen United Methodist Church and Camp Norwesca in honor of Betty’s life and devotion to the church.