We buried my father-in-law in early May. Bob Young, a lifelong rancher from Kimball, SD, took over the ranch from his father who acquired it from the original homesteader. Through the years, Bob farmed and raised livestock. Cattle were his first love and he operated cow-calf and stocker enterprises until a few years ago.
Bob had three daughters and two sons. All the kids gravitated off the farm. Two sons ended up on the West Coast. The daughters are strung out in a north-south line from Minneapolis to Kansas City. None of the kids saw their future on the farm, though they treasure every opportunity to get back to the wide open prairies 25 miles east of the Missouri River.
The disposition of the land is still up in the air. At least for now, it will probably remain with the family with the rental proceeds helping support Bob's widow, Vernie. With no immediate family left in the area, Vernie will move to Minnesota where my wife and I live, and the two-story, five-bedroom farmhouse and the buildings around it will be sold, maybe to a young family, perhaps to hunters who flock each fall to this part of South Dakota for the abundant pheasant and deer.
With the family moving off the farm, the auction of personal property is set for July 11. It's billed as a farm equipment and antiques auction, and people tell me it's being referred to by neighbors and townspeople as "the event." A 1997 JD 7410 with the 740 loader is headlining the sale, followed by a 2005 Crown Victoria and a 2002 Silverado pickup. Then there are the antique engines and farm equipment that Bob loved to tinker on and restore, and tons of household and shop items.
I've been back at the farm a few times helping the family get ready for the sale. An awful lot of "stuff" can be accumulated by a family in a century of living in one spot. I was out there again last weekend for three days helping to get ready for the auction. I spent a better part of one day mowing, and the rest in Bob's shop helping to get hardware organized for the auction.
The shop was Bob’s sanctuary. If it could be bent, welded, drilled or punched, Bob could craft something useful and/or decorative out of it. Over the years, Bob fabricated a multitude of pieces of indestructible yard art – elaborate foot scrapers made out of harness hames and disk plates, deer forms made from logs, elaborate plant hangers, birdhouses, windmills of antique square nails, lamps from antique spray guns, etc. Mostly they were the kinds of things that a visitor would see and always remark: “That’s cool. Where did you get it?”
So I felt somewhat like a trespasser working in Bob’s shop without Bob around, emptying his parts bins into plastic tubs and coffee cans for sale. Bob was meticulous. Bolts, screws, washers, nuts, shear pins – all of different sizes – were carefully compartmentalized. I didn’t find many mistakes. It was how Bob lived his life.
He was a member of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation,” a generation brought up in a hardscrabble childhood of the Great Depression and called on at a young age to liberate the world from tyranny. Bob and his male classmates graduated from high school a semester early so they could join the war effort. He served in the U.S. Navy.
Once mustered out of the service, Bob traveled to Denver to visit his younger sister Evelyn and was introduced to a pretty school teacher from Oberlin, KS, named LaVergne. They hit it off instantly, eventually married, and moved back to the farm in South Dakota. There Bob worked with his dad and eventually bought the family farm.
About 12 years ago, Bob suffered a major heart attack while hospitalized for a lesser ailment. His doctor said he likely wouldn’t have survived if he hadn’t had already been hospitalized. He barely survived as it was, and sustained massive heart damage.
Bob was a practical joker and loved a good joke. He liked to tease waitresses about the food and the service. I didn’t see him as an emotionally demonstrative man by nature but following his heart attack he hesitatingly told folks about the near-death experience he had during his heart attack episode. He said he felt himself caught between two worlds and a presence had told him he wasn’t ready to come home yet.
So Bob recovered and became like the old Bob but with some major differences. Having almost lost what was most close to him, he was never shy about telling his loved ones about his feelings for them. He was exceptionally grateful for that opportunity and he didn’t waste it.
Over time, his weakened heart gave out and he steadily deteriorated. The thousands of acres he loved to range over caring for his cattle, and later in his four-wheeler spraying thistle with his dog Ellie, increasingly became smaller due to his waning stamina. Eventually his life was essentially relegated to a few rooms in his farmhouse.
Always a very robust, energetic and dawn-to-dusk worker, Bob became very frustrated by his incapacity. Near the end he told me he’d had a good life but it was time to go. He finally got that return call from up above on May 1.
Bob was buried with full military honors on a cold, rainy day, something Bob would have liked because it meant no one was losing valuable field time. His resting place is in a small local cemetery on Highway 45 going north out of Kimball, next to the graves of his parents but separated from them by a pair of large pine trees he planted decades ago. He used to point to his burial plot and say: “I planted those trees there so that I could rest in the shade.”
He’s resting there now. Independence Day greetings to you, Bob.