Pedersons celebrate 70th wedding anniversary
Ralph Pederson’s mom and dad, Reinhart and Mary, were married on Oct. 16, Ralph said, and he wanted to be marry his beloved Helen on Oct. 16. It must have been a charmed day, because Helen and Ralph just celebrated their 70th anniversary.
“Helen has been the best wife and partner that this rancher could have ever wished for,” he said. “She was always there working aside me on her favorite pony.”
Ralph’s maternal grandfather, Peter J. Thorstenson, immigrated to the United States in1882 from Norway. Upon arriving at Ellis Island he boarded a train to Canton and visited friends of the family. It was there he met Sophia, who also had immigrated from Norway. They married on April 5, 1887, the first couple on record to be married in Walworth County. They built a Russian sod brick house in 1894, located two and a half miles west of Selby.
Mary and Reinhart married and homesteaded near Firesteel, named for the large amounts of coal found there. Their daughter Stella was four years old when Ralph was born. When Ralph was a year and a half old, his father died. Mary and the children returned to the Selby area to live with her parents, Ralph said.
“I grew up having three dads,” he said, “my grandpa and my uncles Melvin and Adolph.”
He learned hard work at a very early age, “running errands for all three of them.”
When he was 10 he was given the enormous responsibility of driving a one-row cultivator with two gentle grey Percheron horses.
“The rows had to be perfectly straight,” he said.
When he was less than precise, his grandfather made him reseed the corn. A quick learner, he graduated to driving a two-horse cultivator.
An accomplished seamstress, Mary worked very hard and continued paying taxes on the couple quarters of land on the family ranch in Firesteel.
“We never lost it,” Ralph said, “even through the hard times.”
With memories beckoning, she yearned to return to the family ranch.
In 1935, in the midst of the Dirty ‘30s and with the temperature soaring to over 110 degrees, they headed back to Firesteel, he said, with help from family and friends.
“We had a hay rack with all our worldly possessions including a table, chairs and a tent, horses, and 20 chickens,” he said.
Along the way, they found a package filled with brand new shirts from J.C. Penney Co. that had been abandoned.
After arriving in Firesteel, in addition to farming Ralph found a job as a grease monkey with the Firesteel Coal Company and with the Works Projects Administration (WPA) helping to build roads with a four-horse hitch and a scraper.
Between working, farming, and raising sheep, cattle and horses, Ralph hardly had time to sleep and discovered cigarettes helped keep him awake.
“I soon discovered that it might be becoming a habit,” he said. “So I told my foreman, ‘I’m going to throw this pack of cigarettes in the hole and I want you to bury them for me.’ And at 94 years old, I haven’t smoked since,” he said.
Ralph always loved horses and found he had a talent for breaking them. Soon he was also breaking horses for his neighbors.
“My mom always helped me hitch the team,” he said. “But there was one day when the wind was so bad, blowing the thistles, that it spooked the horses; we gave up.”
They continued to farm with horses until they made the decision to trade in one of their horses toward the purchase of an A Model tractor costing $750, “a little bitty one,” he said.
He met Helen Brammer who came from Dupree to teach the first four grades in the Firesteel School District. They fell in love and were married on Oct. 16.
“We had saved up $300,” he said, “ and decided to go to Rapid City on our honeymoon.”
They raised two sons, Gary and Ron. At one time the family had up to 1,200 head of sheep, quarter horses, and Hereford cattle.
“I’ve always been an advocate of the Hereford breed of cattle,” he said. “But then Helen read an article on Red Angus cattle and their attributes. We thought we’d give them a try.”
The couple traveled to Sheridan, Wyo., and returned with one bull and two cows. They liked what they saw. Red Angus are gentle, have great maternal instincts, don’t get sunburn easily and are resistant to eye infections, he said.
The Broken Heart Ranch is legendary for its quarter horses and racing quarter horses, which had won futurity races throughout the Midwest and for its Red Angus cattle.
Gary, his wife Sue (Stadel) and their family remain on the ranch while Ron owns a welding business in Rapid City. Ralph and Helen were strong proponents of restoring the “Old Stone Church” or Holy Trinity Church in Firesteel.
The couple live in Selby and enjoy visits from their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“When you’ve been fortunate to have found happiness in life, the years go quickly,” he said.