A man of the land, Emerson reflects on 95 years of life in Haakon County
Wed, 12/13/2017 - 10:10am admin
Part 2 in a 2 part series
I have done a lot of different things,” said Keith, “and I’ve enjoyed everyone of them.”
Good times were ahead, though. As soon as the ship docked in San Diego the crew was given a 30-day leave. Keith had sent a V-mail (Victory-mail) from Pearl Harbor to his folks that he was coming home. He was able to hop on two different planes to get to Rapid City. From there he hitchhiked to Philip. He stopped at Mesick Service Station where a neighbor happened to have stopped before heading home. Keith got a ride out to home where he totally surprised his parents – he had beaten the V-mail home.
Since the J. William Ditter was in for repairs, Keith was ordered to the Brooklyn (N.Y.) Naval Yards. Just as he got back he found out that the war had ended. But, his enlistment had not; he was placed on a ship headed for the South China Sea.
As for the J. William Ditter, after dropping its crew in San Diego it was sailed back to New York for full repairs. Since the war ended before repairs began, it was decommissioned Sept. 28, 1945. Keith said the Navy removed some items, then towed the boat out into the Atlantic where it was used for target practice.
Keith was discharged from the Navy in March 1946 in Minneapolis, Minn. He returned to Philip, helping his folks at the ranch. That fall he returned to SDSC. “I got credit for my classes while in the Navy,” said Keith. He graduated in May 1947 with a degree in ag engineering.
There was a little something else that Keith found while in college. He needed a date to a dance. He asked a friend if he knew of anyone he could ask. The friend suggested this gal he knew, Lucille Parsley, who was the secretary to the head of the poultry department.
Keith asked her to the dance, she said yes, and there began a 70-year romance – well except for that short time after their second date when she would have nothing to do with him. Being a wise man, he got to the root of the problem. “It was a fast romance,” said Keith. The couple was married in Brookings, Sept. 16, 1947.
Keith brought his bride back to the ranch north of Philip. They built a house across the creek from his parents and they settled in to ranch and raise a family.
Keith recalled the birth of their first child, Greg. It was the winter of 1948-49, a notorious winter, full of blizzards and lots of snow.
As Lucille’s time neared, it was decided to get her to Kadoka, where her doctor was located. Keith said they couldn’t get out, but a system had been developed to help stranded ranchers and farmers. They were to burn some bales as a signal that help was needed. Clyde and Cecil Ice, along with other pilots, were flying around western South Dakota locating those in need. Clyde and another pilot saw the signal and dropped their planes to check on the Emersons. Keith said they were carrying hay to other ranchers. Ice told him one of them would be back to get Lucille.
Clyde returned in the late afternoon, leaving Lucille in Philip as night was falling and he had to ground the plane. Keith said the timing was right as the highway to Kadoka had been cleared and some friends gave Lucille a ride there.
Keith didn’t hear anything from Lucille for two weeks. And then it was in the form of her coming home in an airplane. Keith rememberered he and his dad were out feeding cows when they heard the small plane. “Dad said, ‘just drop the gate, the cows can feed themselves’ ” recalled Keith. They hurried to Roy and Gertrude’s house to meet Lucille and Greg.
Lucille’s doctor, N.J. Sundet, owned the small plane and made the delivery himself. Keith noted that Sundet had been his dad’s doctor for a long time so they just continued to doctor in Kadoka.
Following the happy reunion, Keith walked home to harness a team of horses to a wagon so that he could bring the family home. Three more children arrived – Ann, Debbie and Mark. By 1955, they were a complete family, loving, living and enjoying life in rural Haakon County.
Keith also kept busy as a surveyor in the county. He noted he was not certified so any work he completed was signed off by a certified surveyor in Pierre.
While the majority of his work involved finding land parcel boundaries, he did other survey work, too. One project was 10 miles of bad road in the northeastern part of the county. To redo the road, Keith surveyed a corrected route. “I saw it (the building of the road) from beginning to end,” he said. Working with him were two Thorson boys – Loren and Leonard.
Using a 100 foot chain and a transit, and maybe just a few of the things from those engineering classes that frustrated him, they surveyed the road to state standards.
The survey experience came in handy when he and Lucille purchased Haakon County Abstract in 1979.
Gertrude and Roy had passed away within three weeks of each other in early 1970, April and May, respectively. The kids were grown and out on their own. It was time for a change.
Since Keith had a love of local history it was a great match. “I liked to study a piece of land,” he said. There’s not a parcel of land in the county that he doesn’t know.
One of his favorite discoveries was that Carrie Ingalls homestead near Topbar. ‘That just intrigued me,” Keith said. Carrie also ran a newspaper there for Ed Senn, the “Proof King.” Senn had numerous newspapers across western South Dakota. The sole purpose of those newspapers was for homesteaders to publish the “proof” or legal of their homestead.
During surveying excursions, Keith said he found some of the original cedar stakes used to mark the corners of parcels. One each north and southwest of Midland, one along the railroad and one southwest of Philip.
Keith said the one southwest of Midland was located on top of a flat. He related that the landowner took steps to preserve that post.
Finding those posts was very exciting to Keith. Not many things remain from the homesteading era. He spoke of his dad coming up from northwestern Nebraska to Ottumwa. From there, Roy set off to find his claim.
“I have done a lot of different things,” said Keith, “and I’ve enjoyed everyone of them.” But, the survey and abstract/title business probably tops the list.
He said it is so important to have the information correct on all the titles. He added that should the records in the courthouse be destroyed, the abstract/title company has to provide access to all their records. This way the county may restock their records in the register of deeds’ office.
Keith knows a lot of information about all those land parcels in Haakon County, previous owners, mortgages, prices paid, etc. That information stays put, though, in deference to landowner’s privacy. While most of it is public information, that can be obtained elsewhere, there is a responsibility that comes with the job.
Keith retired from Haakon County Abstract in 1998 when Sandra Heaton purchased the business. Sandi had worked for Keith since she was in high school. He knew the business was in good hands with her at the helm. Keith did work occasionally for Sandi if she needed some extra hands.
Keith was not all work and no play. He was a pianist as well. Keith said when he and his mother moved into Philip she set him up with piano lessons with Mrs. O.K. (Grace) Whitney. At the time he was seven years old and had lessons with her for four years. Keith added she gave violin lessons and one time he had to accompany a violin player at a recital. It ended well, though.
Keith recalled his dad couldn’t play an instrument, but had an amazing sense of time. He could always tell when Keith was off, he said.
Keith continued playing the piano after they left Philip. It was something he really enjoyed. Many Milesville area residents enjoyed his music as he played the piano at St. Mary’s Catholic Church during services. Keith added he played for school concerts, and graduations as well.
He and Lucille took several trips over the years. His favorite is the trip they took to see the Vatican. To be within its walls and see all the great architecture, art, etc. was awe inspiring, he said.
Keith took his turn watching over the Haakon School District; as a board member from 1970-77. The county schools re-organized in 1970 with all the schools coming under Haakon School District. He took turns serving as vice president, president and board member. He was also on the Associated School Boards of South Dakota during that time. Keith noted he served as president there as well.
Following retirement, he and Lucille enjoyed life in Philip, staying active in local events and visiting with friends. They were within walking distance of downtown and were often seen holding hands as the traversed the sidewalks.
Unfortunately, Keith lost Lucille this fall. He is still adjusting to not seeing her in her chair and in the house. He has maculear degeneration which limits his activities nowadays. “Seventy years we lived together,” said Keith. “We enjoyed so many things.”
Keith has a wealth of knowledge and memories stored up from his 95 years. As with most folks in the area, he is humble about telling his story, of which we’ve barely scrated the surface.