Modest and unassuming, Robert Roy Hays rarely pushed himself forward. But in spite of his quiet demeanor the citizens of Osborne County looked to him for council and leadership during the first sixty years of the county’s history. A friend and confidant to governors, senators, and vice-presidents, Hays makes a worthy addition to the Osborne County Hall of Fame.
Hays was born August 29, 1845, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The son of Scotch-Irish immigrants John and Eliza (Kernahan) Hays and brother of John J. Hays, Jr., Robert headed west with his family to Muscatine, Iowa, in 1852. The next year it was on to Omaha, Nebraska, and then to a farm eight miles south of Nebraska City, where the young Robert spent the rest of his boyhood. During the Civil War Hays served as a private in Company F of the Nebraska Cavalry. When the war ended he became a jeweler in Brownsville, Nebraska. In the spring of 1872 he came to Osborne and entered the hardware business. From 1874 to 1877 Hays served as Osborne County Treasurer. In 1879 he made a tour of California and then returned to Osborne, where he was appointed postmaster in 1880, serving two years.
In 1882 Hays was named by President Chester Arthur as the new Receiver of the U.S. Land Office in Kirwin, Kansas, the same position that his brother John J. Hays Jr. was in charge of only a few years before. The busiest such office in the state, Hays collected more than a million dollars in homestead claim fees in his four years and five months as Receiver. At the end of that time a federal audit in Washington, D.C., went over his account books and found that they were correct to the cent, as had been his brothers’ earlier. The Hays brothers were famous for their integrity.
Hays was a Republican when it came to political affairs. He was an active participant in every district, county, and state convention held in Kansas during his lifetime, working closely with such contemporaries as John J. Ingalls, Preston Plumb, Charles Curtis, and Alfred Landon. In 1888 he was elected to his only state office, serving two terms as state senator. Hays was the first person ever elected to that office from Osborne County.
Hays became a charter member in the Osborne Congregational Church in 1872. He was a lay delegate to the International Council of Congregational churches meeting at Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1908. Hays was also a longtime member of the Masonic Lodge and the G.A.R., and aided E. O. Henshall in securing the Osborne Carnegie Library building for the community.
Concerns over his perennial bachelorhood were dispelled when on November 8, 1916, he entered into marriage with Minnie (McHenry) Rhodes at the Congregational Church in Osborne. Their years together were spent traveling across the United States and Europe between work with civic and county organizations back home. In 1933 they were both given life membership in the Kansas Illustriana Society.
Robert Hays died June 18, 1934, at the age of eighty-nine years at his home in Osborne. Tributes lamenting his passing poured in from across the state as he was laid to rest in the Osborne Cemetery.