Family loves Jim Spiry’s soup, stew

By Sandy Bond
Jim Spiry and his granddaughter, Amanda, enjoy making a special version of knoepfla and sausage together. The secret ingredient is left-over mashed potatoes.

A long-time Walworth County sheriff and commissioner, Jim is a self-described “penny pincher.”

“Waste-not-want-not” has always been his motto; including in his service to his constituents and in his approach toward good home cooking.

“I have been told by my daughters that I make the best soup and stews,” he said. “My specialties are anything in the Crockpot. I like to mix different ingredients to come up with something new.”

Jim hosted a New Year’s Eve dinner of scalloped potatoes and leftover ham from Christmas dinner for a crew of 14, comprised of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at his home in Glenham.

Jim’s love for animals is legendary around these parts. In addition to his chocolate Pomeranian, Tessi, Jim shares his home with two inside cats, Jake and Rowdy, and three outside cats, Buddy, Buffy, and Popeye.

“Three of my daughters have dogs, too, so I usually have a household of animals every holiday,” he said.

His mother was a great German cook, he said, as was his wife, Donna.

“I also had to learn how to be creative cooking when Donna and I had to cook for the inmates in jail while sheriff,” he said.

The Spirys and their five children, Allen, Ann, Dollie, Avis, and Alice lived in a trailer home adjacent to the jail. Occasionally, between deputies, they were the only ones who kept the jail running.

“Those inmates had to be the best fed in the state, because they ate whatever we ate,” he said.

Twenty-five years ago, Jim told commissioners the family was moving to Glenham, and they would have to hire its first jailers.

His worst cooking experience, he said, was when he was going to surprise Donna with chocolate chip cookies.

“I must have forgotten something, because when they came out of the oven they were the size of Frisbees and flat as flat could be,” he said. “She laughed and ate them anyway. Actually, they were pretty good!”

The sons of Kate and Ted Spiry, Jim and his twin brother Jerry, Reine, Arlys “Punk” and Lynnard “Lynn,” were born on a farm three miles north of Java. The family moved to the river bottom south of Mobridge where their parents managed the Spiry Ranch for Ted’s brother, Dr. A.W. Spiry.

Service to others began at an early age when he was a member of the National Guard. With the unrest in the Far East immediately preceding the Korean Conflict, he and childhood best friends, Spud Dame and Q.P. Coleman, tried to enlist in the military at the age of 16. Their parents wouldn’t sign for them, so they attempted to “skip the formalities” and enlist anyway. When they were discovered, they were immediately discharged. After graduating from Mobridge High School in 1951, at the age of 17, his parents agreed to sign for him and he joined the U.S. Air Force. After basic training, aircraft mechanic school, and helicopter maintenance training, he volunteered to serve in the Korean Conflict. He maintained aircrafts, mostly the T-6 Texan, as crew chief, just behind the front lines. He was honorably discharged in 1955 and returned to Mobridge where he was employed as a lineman with the Milwaukee Railroad and as truck driver and salesperson for a local malt beverage distributing company.

“I sold Grain Belt and my competitor was Dennis Bierschbach, who sold Schlitz,” he said.

Bierschbach and Jim later served as Walworth County Commissioners.

He met Donna, who was employed by Montana-Dakota Utilities, at the local bowling alley and after a long-distance romance they married in 1955. In 1961, Jim was employed as a bartender at the Range Club (Eagle’s Club). He and Donna had just started their family when Mayor Emil Weigum asked him to become a police officer on the Mobridge Police Force.

“It didn’t take a mental genius to decide,” Jim said. “I was making $45 a week as a bartender with no insurance and he was offering me $300 a month with insurance. Eight years later, Mayor Robert Miller, asked him to become police chief. In 1971, he ran for sheriff and served one term before Mobridge Mayor Dr. Herb McClellan asked him to return as police chief. A change in the political climate caused him to relocate to the Groton Police Department in 1976. After the abrupt departure of Sheriff Bob Will, Jim accepted the position as sheriff once again. He ran undefeated until his retirement in January 2000. He ran for commissioner representing Dist. 2 in 2002, defeating attorney Rick Cain and Bill Rice.

He and Donna had plans to travel. However, she became ill and travel consisted of traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. After 46 years of marriage, Donna passed away in 2005.

Jim used to hunt and fish but doesn’t anymore, he said, but does fulfill the “call of the wild” by rereading the classics by his favorite author Jack London. His favorite activity is spending time with his family and his pets.


One Dish Chicken Rice Bake

4 skinless and boneless chicken breasts

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup water

3/4 cup uncooked regular white rice

1/4 tsp. paprika

1/4 tsp. pepper

Place chicken breast in a shallow 2-quart baking dish. Cover chicken with soup mixture. Season according to taste. Cover. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until chicken and rice are done. Serves 4. (Note: for creamier rice, increase water to 1 1/3 cups.)


Pork Chops and Rice

4 to 6 pork chops

2 cups of cooked white rice

Cream of mushroom soup

1 soup can milk

1 pkg. onion soup mix

1/2 chopped green pepper

salt and pepper (to taste)

In a skillet, brown pork chops. In a separate bowl, mix other ingredients. In a baking pan, place pork chops and cover with rice. Pour soup mixture over rice and pork chops. Bake in 350-degree oven for one hour.

Scalloped Potatoes and Ham

Leftover ham (cubed)

2 cans cream of cheddar cheese soup

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1/2 can milk

1 pkg. onion soup mix

5 lbs. Russet potatoes (cubed)

Bake at 325 degrees for an hour or so until potatoes are done.

Beef Stew

1 lb. stew beef (rolled in flour and fried)

1 onion (chopped)

1 can beef broth

4 or 5 Russet potatoes

1 small can V-8 vegetable juice or tomato juice (secret ingredient)

1 can green beans (drained)

4 good size carrots or 1 small pkg. baby carrots

1/2 red pepper (chopped)

Put all ingredients in a Crockpot in the morning. By supper, it’s done!

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