It's no exaggeration to say that Dick Cabela personified the American dream. He turned his enthusiasm for hunting and fishing into a business, then turned that business into a worldwide retailing giant.
Cabela, who died Monday at age 77, created a life story that reads much like a Horatio Alger tale. Growing up in Chappell and helping his parents, A.C. and Marian Cabela, in their furniture store, he spent his spare time hunting and fishing along nearby Lodgepole Creek.
His company got its start in 1961, when Richard Cabela bought 2,880 fishing flies for $45 while in Chicago. When the flies didn't sell quickly at the furniture store, Cabela began selling them through the mail with his wife, Mary, and brother, Jim.
By the end of that first year, revenue totaled $627, and Cabela recalled that, “If you figured labor, we lost. But we were getting enough response to pay expenses ... and we thought it was great.''
His passion for the outdoors, belief in his ideas and the care he gave to his customers would lead from the kitchen table to the Cabela's catalog and eventually to a company with $3.6 billion in revenue and 50 retail stores across North America.
“I hunt, and I'd rather go fishing than eat,'' he told The World-Herald on the company's 50th anniversary in 2011. “Most of our customers are the same kind of people.”
Cabela's grew from a Panhandle Nebraska post office box to employing more than 16,000 people in the United States, including 1,800 at its Sidney headquarters, flagship retail store and warehouses. His hard work, dedication and enthusiasm brought honors for both his business accomplishments and his commitment to wildlife and conservation.
It is success the Cabelas shared with the town the company has called home for decades. Indeed, Sidney's economic development statistics have been among Nebraska's best since the company opened its first superstore along Interstate 80.
City Manager Gary Person said no one in Sidney's 147-year history impacted the town more: “We're truly blessed that he called Sidney home. He always believed in our community and our future.”
During more than a half century of business growth, Dick Cabela never forgot the Nebraska Panhandle, where he grew up, grew a company and grew opportunities for thousands.