Family, agriculture and….boxing – Dean Schrempp looks back fondly

Karen Holzer
for Tri-State Livestock News
Schrempp cattlehave provided a living for the family for generations.

Turning off Highway 212 six miles west of Eagle Butte, Dean Schrempp pulls into his ranch located on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota. Black Limousin cattle are scattered throughout the countryside, dotting the horizon as far as one can see. Dean has spent eighty-three years from this vantage point – observing the weather, experiencing the four seasons, and watching decades of family and community life.

Dean, born on the 4th of July, 1935, grew up on his parent’s ranch just three miles away from the place he now calls home with his wife, Mavis.

Dean says, “I love living here. We have clean air, a clear sky, and miles and miles of beautiful open land. It’s very quiet here. At night we see a million stars and watch satellites cross the sky from one horizon to another.”

Year round, the rancher enjoys the outdoors, each season with its own characteristics. Spring brings baby calves, wildlife, and rain. Green grass grows covering the countryside and the alfalfa is so pretty in the summer. Fall is a busy time, working livestock, selling calves, combining, and getting ready for winter. He comments that with modern equipment and machinery the winter has become the easiest season on the ranch. Time is spent working in the shop and getting machinery ready for the next year.

“I love living here. We have clean air, a clear sky, and miles and miles of beautiful open land. It’s very quiet here. At night we see a million stars and watch satellites cross the sky from one horizon to another.” Dean Schrempp, Eagle Butte, S.D.

The outdoors and ranch life create a great place to raise kids and grandkids. Dean and his wife, Mavis (Wright), were married in 1955. The first year Dean and Mavis were married they lived in a partitioned area of Dean’s parents living room. Dean writes his parents were good to them, but Mavis wanted them to be on our own.They moved into a trailer about 25 feet by 6 feet. At that time Dean had only one or two cows and very little money.

The young couple later bought land from Ralph Reede and fixed up the house. Dean starting raising hogs, selling the feeder pigs, and milked cows by hand. Dean says they farmed, sold cream, milked cows and raised hogs to get their start. Over the years, he farmed Mavis’ dad’s land, and later handled the operation of his dad’s ranch.

Their first son, John was born in 1956, when they lived in the tiny trailer. A daughter, Susan, was born in 1958, Diane in 1960, Allen in 1962, David in 1963, and Joe in 1965. With six children they moved into a new ranch style house. Dean says that it seemed like a mansion. Bob was born in 1969, and Angie in 1975. A nephew, Dakotah, was also raised by Dean and Mavis.

Dean’s children worked with him in the fields and with the cattle. He says he would find a big field, show the kids how to run the machinery, then jump out saying, “You finish the field.”

Dean and Mavis enjoyed their children, often loading them in the car on Sunday afternoons for a trip to the river which was about 40 miles away. Dean chuckles as he remembers the stories of his children and their adventures while they were growing up.

Then the kids grew up, married and had grandchildren. Dean and Mavis felt fortunate to have their family living close. Dean’s two brothers and his sister also lived nearby and the families often spent time together. Four of his boys, John, Alan, Joe and Bob, have followed in their father’s footsteps, ranching within 10-15 miles of each other. Dean says, “We share machinery and get together to brand each year.”

Dean says that when he first started ranching they raised Herefords. The Schrempp ranch is now known for the black Limousin cattle that graze the pastures.

There have been hard winters and some really good years. The winter of 1949 was one of those tough years. Dean was in high school at the time. He recalls there was so much snow, they had to scoop snow to get out of the upstairs window. 1985 brought a spring storm that caused the death of many cattle.

But Dean says, “I have seen some really good years with rain falls are above average and the dams fill up and run over.” He comments that the sight of green grass is one of his favorite things.

In addition to ranching, Dean has a passion for boxing. He not only boxed competitively himself, but also shared his skill and love for the sport with family members and later, the youth in his community.

Dean began boxing as a young boy. The family didn’t have television, so he and his brothers would put on their gloves and box. Every Friday night he listed to the Cavalcade of Sports, sponsored by Gillette razors, on a Zenith battery radio. He posted information about each fight in a book. He continued this practice into his high school years. Some of his boxing heroes at the time were Joe Louis, Billy Conn, Max Schmeling, Rocky Graziano, Tony Zale, andWilly Pep.

Dean says his boxing career started when he was a high school junior. One weekend he was invited to ride along to a boxing tournament in Wall. He says, “I wasn’t planning to fight but one kid didn’t have a match. He Every was Russell Burmaster, a Golden Gloves champion.”

Dean said he would fight him. Burmaster promised to take it easy on Dean as he had a lot of experience and it was Dean’s first match. In the second round Dean knocked him down and as the Golden Glove champion was getting back on his feet he said, “Dean, take it easy.”

Dean stopped him in the third round. Dean remembers thinking, “Oh, boy, this is so easy! I didn’t even really get hit. I’m going to make this my career.”

He went to Dupree to tryout, and then boxed every weekend against teams in Spearfish, Wall, Sturgis, and Belle Fourche. The Legion Club paid $5 a match. Dean did this for several years until he was married and had kids.

At that time, towns across the state had boxing teams. Dean boxed all over, traveling with Georg Vandervier in the coach’s Volkswagon.

Dean says there were few rules, you just went in there and fought. The judges and referees weren’t certified, and there were no doctors or EMTs at ringside. The gyms were jam-packed with spectators.

Dean comments that one of the toughest boxers he fought was George Cruz, who later boxed professionally. Dean beat him once, and George beat Dean twice. Two other tough opponents were Don Gun Hammer and Hobart Lone Hill, both from Belle Fourche.

He says that when he gave up boxing himself, he started training kids in the sport. He has worked with over 800 kids over the years. He says, “We took anyone, but they had to train.” Many of the youth Dean worked with, later came to him saying they were glad he did what he did for them. Dean says there were so many drugs, alcohol, and suicide and he was glad to give the kids a chance for an alternative, boxing. He says the years of coaching were rewarding. The boys were good, trained hard, and followed strict rules. Dean says that he has never missed the dollars he spend on coaching boxing to the kids.

His interest in government and community led Dean to serve as a Dewey County Commissioner from 1980 – 1988. Later he served as a legislator for South Dakota. During his time in Pierre, he shared his livestock and farm background and experience with fellow lawmakers.

Dean tells he supported a beginning farm program available through the Department of Agriculture. He is pleased to know people that have successfully used the program to begin a career in ranching. He says that unless a young kid can get started through a family ranch or get help in another way, it is impossible with the price of land. Land bought by big corporations or sportsman groups prevents young ranchers from the opportunity of ranching or farming.

An issue he worked to accomplish was a state-wide brand inspection. Dean comments that only in west river are brand inspections required when selling cattle. East of the Missouri River, cattle are sold without documentation of ownership. He says, “We never were able to pass legislation to require brand inspections in all areas of the state. East River controls the vote.”

Politically, Dean has worked to promote the implementation of country of origin labeling. He also has strong opinions on the downfalls of the Beef Check Off program and would like to see it discontinued.

One of the highlights coming from his years and contacts through his involvement in state legislature was the opening of the clinic in Eagle Butte. Dean is pleased to have played a role in the establishment of the medical clinic and the services it provides to the community.

Looking back on his life, Dean says his dad and mom were strong influences in his life. They grew up in hard times, teaching their boys to never borrow money over your head – just don’t do it.

Dean says that Mavis, his wife and life-long partner on the ranch, is quite the lady. In addition to working with him and raising their family, she became an accomplished artist and was voted South Dakota Mother of the Year in 1998.

The rancher has had the opportunity to work with his sons as they expanded their ranching efforts. He and Mavis have watched children and grandchildren grow up experiencing the life Dean has always loved and appreciated. Involvement in evolving agriculture practices and changes in the community are intertwined with Dean’s life.

In later years, Dean has realized the importance of recording family history. His grandfather, Leo Schrempp, wrote a family history of Nebraska pioneering days in the 1870s and 1880s. Inspired, Dean began to record his own stories and memories. He wrote of breaking horses, butchering turkeys, boxing matches, raising kids, branding, flying lessons, and conversations with the South Dakota governor.

His book, Wide Open Spaces – The Schrempp Family in South Dakota, was published in 2012. In addition to his own recollections, Dean included a family tree, obituaries, and his grandfather’s family history. Sitting at the same family heirloom desk as his grandfather years earlier, Dean compiled his thoughts and history of his life in Dewey County. And so. . . the stories of the Schrempp family legacy are preserved to continue into another generation.