The Sapp Brothers' Story: Tough Times, Teamwork, & Faith

The Sapp Brothers' Story: Tough Times, Teamwork, & Faith

The Sapp Brothers' Story: Tough Times, Teamwork, & Faith

The Sapp Brothers' Story: Tough Times, Teamwork, & Faith


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Through their strong work ethic and faith in God—and in each other—the Sapp brothers rose above early adversity to become some of the most respected and successful leaders in the Midwest. Forming the Sapp Brothers Truck Stops in the 1970s and going on to build the Sapp Brothers Petroleum Company, this family has been a Nebraska legend that built business for the state and invested in many state-sponsored organizations. Their "coffee pot" water tower  is a symbol of their first truck stops and a Nebraska icon. Keeping integrity and humility as the focus of their professional and personal lives throughout the years, the Sapp brothers have proven that nice guys can finish first and that the American dream is still alive and well.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781940495606
Publisher: Addicus Books
Publication date: 04/01/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 180
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Bill Sapp is the CEO of Sapp Brothers Petroleum. Lee Sapp is the owner of several car dealerships in Nebraska. They began their careers in the Sapp Brothers Petroleum family business.Tom Osborne is a former head coach of the Nebraska Cornhuskers football team and a former member of Congress. He is currently an athletic director at the University of Nebraska. They all live in Omaha, Nebraska.

Read an Excerpt

The Sapp Brothers' Story

Tough Times, Teamwork, & Faith

By Bill Sapp, Lee Sapp

Addicus Books, Inc.

Copyright © 2010 Lee Sapp and Bill Sapp
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-940495-60-6


My Early Years: Lee Sapp

See, only God knows when you're going to be born. He controls it all. He wanted us born in our time and our mom and dad in theirs. My time was January 18, 1929, on a farm six miles southeast of Auburn, Nebraska. According to the midwife and the chicken scale, I weighed a hefty fourteen pounds two ounces. Now that was the year the Depression started real bad, and that's the year my dad went broke feeding cattle, so I don't suppose I was in that house more than a year or two. I honestly don't know how long we lived there because we moved around so often.

Back in those days, Auburn was just a small town, but Hurless and Emily Sapp wouldn't move from the farm into town because they didn't want their children growing up in a 'big city.'

Throughout my childhood our family moved around southeastern Nebraska, but the countryside always looked the same wherever we went — rolling farm land with rows of trees along the road and corn, wheat, oats, barley, or alfalfa in the fields. We weren't traveling on paved roads, either. We didn't have them in those days like we do now. On the farm, we just had dirt roads that turned to mud when it rained. The gravel roads in town were a little easier to drive on.

We moved about every March 1 until I was a senior in high school. It seemed like either the landlord didn't like my dad or all of us living in one house or maybe Dad wasn't farming right. I think the Depression was the main cause, though. Whatever house we were in, we were a close-knit family. Each house became a wonderful home, one that was full of love. There were seven of us kids altogether. My oldest sister, Irene, was eleven years old when Bill, the youngest, was born. There's only five years between us four boys, though. Ray's the oldest, then me, then Dean, then Bill.

Those names — the ones we came to be known by — look pretty common, but they don't tell the whole story. Mom had a creative flair, especially when it came to naming her children: Veloura Hubka Sapp, Zelma Isabelle Sapp, Irene Emily Sapp, LaRayne Homer Sapp, LeLon Hurless Sapp, Harold Dean Sapp, and William Darlo Sapp.

My brother Ray was originally named LaRayne, and that's what he was called most of his younger life until he got to high school. He started school very young, and he was only sixteen when he graduated. Because Ray was younger than the other boys, he also was shorter, so everybody started calling him Shorty. I called him Shorty, my brothers did, and all the kids at the high school did.

After high school, Ray went into the service as Shorty and LaRayne, and he came out as Ray. That name was on his uniform and everything. He changed his name all right, and he was Ray from then on. I have no idea how Mom took to him changing his name; she never said anything about it, and just called him Ray, like everyone else did.

I grew up with the name LeLon. My parents called me that, and so did my teachers, and everyone else. In my baby book, Morton is crossed out for my middle name. They changed it to Hurless after I was born. Maybe Morton was the name Dad wanted. I think Mother didn't really like Morton, so she talked Dad into putting his own name in there. I shortened my name to Lee during my time in the service just because it was easier.

The baby book my mother made for me is a treasure. Mother wrote down just about everything you could say about a child, from how I would try to say certain words, to my being a pretty good boy — mostly! She wrote that I was often the life of the party, but I never liked to do my chores!

To help our mother out, my oldest sister, Irene, kind of got assigned to Ray when he came along as the first boy. I was the second boy and so the next sister, Veloura, got assigned to me. When I was a baby, Veloura was probably eight or nine years old. She changed my diapers and put me to bed every night and took care of me. We spent a lot of time together, and she became my closest sister. When Dean arrived, my sister Zelma became responsible for him.

As we grew up, Zelma became probably the biggest tease of the bunch. She has always liked to kid people; I think it has something to do with being the youngest girl. Always joking with kids, you know. She'll pretend to give you something and then there may not be anything there. That kind of thing. A lot of us called her by her nickname, Zeke. There were five years between me and Zelma.

Unfortunately, by the time Billy came along, all of the sisters were spoken for, so he was on his own. I like to kid him about that to this day.

Overall, Mother and our sisters took very good care of us. One time, though, when I was an infant in a basket, Veloura accidentally put my basket too close to the potbelly stove. It started smoking but it never caught on fire. Lucky for all of us! Our sisters really became close with each other because they stayed in the nursery and did everything for us. They were a tremendous help to Mother and just wonderful, loving sisters to us.

Growing up, all of us brothers and sisters got along real well. The girls would come out and try to play ball with us brothers once in a while, even though they were older. Veloura and Zelma would attend what later became Peru State College and become teachers in one-room country schools. Then they started dating and they didn't have as much time for us, but that was to be expected.

My brothers and I were sure ornery sometimes. We especially liked to play tricks on the fellas our sisters were dating. We didn't know the guys very well, so we didn't do much at first. But then, once they started coming around more often, we pulled a lot of pranks on them. One of our favorites was to let the air out of their tires when they weren't looking. Later on, we usually got to thinking that they were okay, so we'd leave them alone. We just wanted to make sure that we were going to have three wonderful brothers-in-law! And we got the job done!

We brothers might fight once in a while among ourselves. But if a neighbor or two showed up looking for trouble and there were sides to be taken, all of a sudden my brothers and I were together. There was no doubt about that. I remember the Higgins boys lived down the road a quarter of a mile, maybe a half mile. We were all good friends, but one day in grade school they came over and we got in a fight — Higgins against Sapps! I have no idea what that fight was about, but they left with their tails between their legs!

Growing up, Ray was my favorite brother, probably because he was the oldest boy. We did a lot of things together — church, work, chores, school. He even helped take care of me, in a sense. We became the best of friends. One time, though, when I was real small and Ray was sleeping on the floor, I stepped on his head, using it as a footstool to get up to kiss Dolly Dean who was on someone's lap. Dolly Dean was the nickname of my little brother who was just nineteen months younger than I. After we had grown up and he'd long gotten over being mad, I teased Ray, 'You can't be very smart if you let me step on your head to go up and kiss Dean!' I loved my little brother Dean very much.

When Ray would go out on dates, Dad had a deadline for him to be back. When he was late, instead of going through the front door, he'd wake me up. I'd open the window on the second floor, let down a rope that was tied to the bed, and pull him up through the window. That way, Dad wouldn't know whether he came home late or not. Like I said, we were good friends.

I actually introduced Ray to his future wife. She and I rode to school together as kids, and she rode her bicycle down to see the whole Sapp family sometimes. One of those times she was over, Brother Ray was home from the Navy and asked me, 'Who's that filly?' And I told him. He must have liked her because they started going together and ended up getting married.

* * *

It's good our family was strong and loving because times were tough during the Depression, and most folks felt it. It wasn't much fun moving each year because Dad got a job with the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, after he went broke feeding cattle. I heard that more than 3 million people were getting this financial help by 1936, but some of the farmers weren't suffering like we were.

If we got on the school bus, somebody would always yell, 'Here come the WPA kids!'

This caused a lot of fights. To be named as a WPA guy meant you were on government welfare, and you were going to get made fun of. Now if you moved far enough away, there'd be a new bunch of kids who didn't know you, and the taunts would start all over again. Tell you the truth, though, in those days, plenty of kids' parents were on the WPA — maybe the kids just didn't know it.

I remember our neighbor Mr. Reinhard Bartels also worked for the WPA. It was at his house that I met Bus and Elva Gottula's son Eugene. He was visiting his cousin Don Bartels. Eugene, Don, and I were six or seven years old at the time. This was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

When we moved from farm to farm, it was usually within about a twenty-five-mile radius. From Filley, Nebraska, to Beatrice, it was just ten or fifteen miles. When I went to Virginia, Nebraska, that was a different direction, but it was all of twelve miles. Bill would know more about Diller and the distance because he was the only one at home at that time. He went to school there. That town was the farthest away and that was twenty-five miles.

O'Dell and Pawnee City would be the next two farthest away, I suppose.

We lived mostly in white, two-story farmhouses. Some home owners tried to make improvements to their houses — mostly using cheap paint to try to make them look better. The main thing most families had in common was being poor. Homes back then weren't built with any amenities. Most weren't insulated and the windowpanes were just thin glass. There was no way to keep heat in and cold out. You were either sweating from the heat of the potbelly stove inside or shivering from the cold coming in.

Feathers are very warm. We'd sleep on a very thin mattress with a feather bed three or four inches thick on top of it. Then we'd have another feather bed on top of us, as well. But in rural places where we lived, we got a lot of snow every winter. And if there was a real bad blizzard, the snow would come in through the windows, and we'd wake up in the morning with snow on top of our feather bed.

In the mornings, because the fire had just gotten started when we got up, it sure felt cold. We'd stand as close as we could to that potbelly stove to get dressed. On real cold days, it didn't take long to go to the bathroom in the outhouse out back!

To get through the winter, we would start cutting down trees for firewood at the end of the summer and continue until winter started. We'd pile it near the house so we could get it inside in a hurry. We had to make sure we had enough to get through the winter.

Getting all seven of us kids bathed at one time and having enough hot water for everybody was not easy. Of course, very, very few homes had running water then. We had to go out to the windmill and pump water to fill our pails and then carry them to the house. I saw my mother out there pumping water so many times that it made me feel bad.

In the wintertime, we had a cookstove with a reservoir on it. We'd haul the hot water out on the porch on Saturday night, get out the homemade soap, and take a bath in the tub. We couldn't fill the water too high in the tub or we'd run out of it before all the baths were taken. We boys used the same bath water, but we each had our own washcloth. The girls naturally took their bath at a different time than the boys did.

In the summertime, we'd put an elevated fifty-gallon barrel in the sun to heat. After a few hours, we'd take a coffee can, poke holes in it, and let the water run through it, so we could take a shower. We all used it.

Of all of the houses we lived in while I was growing up, I did have a favorite — the farmhouse near Beatrice. It had running water in it. That was the first time we had baths and showers and toilets. The year was 1943 and I was going to be a sophomore in high school. You know, it was a beautiful white house; it set well, and it was a caliber above, quite a bit above, what we'd had previously, because it had indoor plumbing.

* * *

As far as family dinners went, lots of times I was afraid there might not be enough food for me. If there was a bowl of mashed potatoes or another food I liked on the table, I ate as fast as I could, so I'd have a chance of getting seconds. That's how I became such a fast eater, I think! For a treat, every third week or so we might get a nickel to buy an ice cream cone.

* * *

Looking back, I remember our family prayed a lot. When you're young, you probably don't think of your parents praying about all the hard times the family's going through. But as you get older, you know they are. My parents were praying about how to pay $2.50 a month to Sears and $5.00 to the landlord — more if we were renting the farmland — and still have enough left out of the $45.00 a month WPA check to buy food and clothes for us kids. Praying was just the natural thing to do at our house. We had to pray for everything because some of the time we didn't have anything. We always said grace before every meal.

My mother was an angel. She was a big-hearted, wonderful, kind lady. Mom gave us lots of hugs and compliments and fixed the best meals ever. And for each of our birthdays, she'd bake us a special cake or a pie. Everything she made was good ... but those poppy-seed kolaches! Oh, my. Those Bohemian pastries were my favorite — and still are! Mother's maiden name was Emily Hubka — a good Bohemian name. She really knew what she was doing when she made her pastries — those kolaches!

Mother was a school teacher for a time. In fact she met my dad when she was studying at Peru State College, then Normal Training Teachers' College, to become a teacher. She taught at a county school until she married my dad in 1919.

My mom sure was a hard worker, a very hard worker. Looking back, I don't know how she did it all. She kept the house clean and swept, which was a big deal in itself because all seven of us kids were always coming in from the mud, the dirt, the dust, and the hay.

Mother did all of the cooking and washing, and then she'd help with the field work, too. She would help shock the wheat, shock the oats, haul the grain with a team of horses to the granary on the farm, and milk the cows. She even helped Dad harness horses. There wasn't anything she didn't help him with. She did a little bit of everything, but come to think of it, like a lot of women of her generation, she never did learn how to drive a car.

I would say that I take more after my mother than my dad. Even my sisters say how much like our mother I am. They tell me that all the time. They say I'm always giving things to people, just like Mother always did. They say I smile like her. It's a nice compliment. It makes me feel good.

* * *

Even though we didn't have much money, we kids had a lot of memorable experiences growing up. We had a sense of a big extended family, from my mother's side mostly. While we kids were growing up, our cousins would ride their bicycles four or five miles to come see us. And we loved going over to Grandma Hubka's place to eat, just like people enjoyed coming to our house to taste my mother's cooking. My grandmother made the best kolaches. My mother had a great teacher in the kitchen!

Holidays were always so much fun. Christmas was my favorite because it meant I was going to get a lot of food to eat! We never got a lot of presents, though. One year Grandpa Hubka made a little wagon for us. He filled it full of popcorn and put hog cracklings on top instead of butter. That was our Christmas present — for all seven of us. They just didn't have extra money to give us anything else. You know, though, we all held hands, and the way I remember it, I was very grateful. Looking back, I wonder whether the popcorn itself was really the treat or was it the fact that it was Christmastime and I was with my family. To this day, I am not sure why it was so special, but it was.

Christmas wasn't the only fun holiday. In the summer, for a long time, we couldn't afford to buy fireworks for the Fourth of July, but sometimes we would go into these small towns to see fireworks displays.


Excerpted from The Sapp Brothers' Story by Bill Sapp, Lee Sapp. Copyright © 2010 Lee Sapp and Bill Sapp. Excerpted by permission of Addicus Books, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part I A Nebraska Childhood,
1 My Early Years: Lee Sapp,
2 The Happiest Home: Bill Sapp,
Part II Going Our Separate Ways,
3 Moving On: Lee Sapp,
4 Beyond Nebraska: Bill Sapp,
Part III Returning Home,
5 Getting Down to Business: Lee Sapp,
6 We're Not in Paris Anymore, Lucille: Bill Sapp,
Part IV Joining Forces: The Sapp Bros,
7 Coming Together, Working It Out: Lee Sapp,
8 Learning as We Go: Bill Sapp,
Part V Growing the Family,
9 Life's Treasures: My Helene, Peanut, and Lee Alan: Lee Sapp,
10 Pearl Rings and Curfews: Bill Sapp,
Part VI Sapp Bros. Diversifies,
11 From Truck Stops to Travel Centers: Bill Sapp,
12 Sapp Bros. Petroleum: Bill Sapp,
13 Sapp Bros. Propane: Bill Sapp,
Part VII Ties That Bind,
14 Family First: Lee Sapp,
15 Generations: Bill Sapp,
Part VIII Succeeding in Business: Lessons Learned,
16 Prosperity and The Golden Rule: Lee Sapp,
17 Experience, the Best Teacher: Bill Sapp,
Part IX Giving Ways,
18 There Is No Place Like Nebraska! Lee Sapp,
19 Going into All the World: Bill Sapp,
Part X Looking Back, Looking Forward,
20 Gratitude for a Life of Good: Lee Sapp,
21 Gifts from God: Bill Sapp,

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