Earl Eugene McPherson | TSLN.com

Earl Eugene McPherson

Courtesy photo

Earl Eugene McPherson died Friday, April 22, 2011, at the Sturgis Senior Care Center at the age of 101. He was born Dec. 14, 1909, in Sturgis and made his first trip home, 27 miles by horse and buggy to the family ranch on Alkali creek in the middle of winter. He was the oldest son in a family of eight children born to Eugene H. and Ida (Theirs) McPherson.

Earl grew up on the family ranch helping his father raise working horses and cattle on their Alkali Creek ranch. He used to take horses with his Dad to many places east of the Missouri River to sell as well as driving cattle to the train for shipment. He attended the McPherson school and graduated from 8th grade when he was 13. Earl was very studious, so nobody suspected that he was the one who put the bull snake in the teacher’s desk and the one that put a frog in a girl’s syrup pail that she used for her lunch box. Five years later, he went to South Dakota State Aggie School and graduated in 1932 where he felt that he really learned what he needed to help him in life. He was the senior class president.

Earl played the banjo by ear and his brother, Arnold, played the drums, and they made a little money at school playing for dances in Brookings. While at school, Earl also completed ROTC, and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He then returned to the family ranch and worked with his father and brothers raising horses, cattle and crops during the very dry ’30s battling drought, anthrax and a poor economy. Earl bought his first tractor, a used 1937 John Deere Model B, which his dad didn’t think was at all necessary since he raised working horses. He was also starting his first herd of Hereford cattle.

Earl continued to play for dances, which sometimes lasted all night as people couldn’t return home until daylight so the horses could see. At one of those dances he met a school teacher that became his “little wife,” Celeste C. Karrels. They were dating for some time until World War II intervened. With war clouds gathering, Earl was called up in September 1941 to join the Army, but failed his first physical because he was under the weight minimum by 13 pounds. He went back home and gained a little weight and asked for another physical. The day of the physical he ate five pounds of bananas, drank a gallon of water, He didn’t stand up very straight, but passed. He was sent to Fort Crook, NE, which was a great assignment, but Earl wanted to go overseas. He was then assigned to Fort Lewis, WA, awaiting overseas deployment. In November 1942, they were notified of pending departure, so Celeste came out by train to see him off. They had been engaged 11 months at that point and decided to get married while she was there. His unit didn’t actually leave until January 1943 and made the 18-day voyage to Sydney, Australia on the “James O’Hara” a new ship, making her first voyage. Earl was assigned to the Headquarters of the Advanced Base at Port Moresby, New Guinea, the Philippines, and for duty as an air courier. He flew over 2,000 hours and made daily flights after memorizing messages and other highly classified materials from General MacArthur’s Headquarters to all the islands in the Southwest Pacific. Earl was overseas 33 months and left the service at Fort Leavenworth, KS, at the rank of captain. Celeste had continued to work in Sturgis while he was deployed.

Earl and Celeste bought the ranch adjoining his father’s ranch, which used to belong to his Uncle Bert, in the spring of 1946. There was so much work to do those first few years replacing buildings, planting wind breaks, fencing and growing crops for an ever increasing cattle herd. Getting electricity in 1949 made a huge difference in life on the ranch.

Earl and Celeste had four children: Kathleen in 1947, Mary in 1950, Wayne in 1951 and Larry in 1957. They family moved into the garage and the family home was rebuilt on the same spot in 1956. As soon the basement was finished, they moved into the basement and then Earl completed as much of the work as he could. Earl was an equal opportunity employer of children, who were expected to milk cows, work in the fields, “pick rocks,” move cattle on horseback and on rainy days, oil the saddles. Many a time he would be milking and making up math problems in his head for the children to solve. He was a very patient teacher but wanted things done right with appropriate effort.

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Earl continued to be very involved in school activities. He served on the local board of education for 11 years for the Alfalfa school and was a moving force in helping establish the two-room school where his grandchildren completed their elementary schooling. He then was elected to the Meade County 46-1 school board for 9 years primarily on the budget and negotiations committee. He spent many days and trips to Pierre over many years testifying about the equalization funding for education and the impact on family ranches and farms. He was so passionate about this subject that it led him to run for the State Senate twice. He was determined that all his children would go to college at South Dakota State, and they did.

Earl was very involved with the Bear Butte Catholic Church, as was his wife, Celeste, serving in several capacities on the church boards. He was also a member of the Knights of Columbus in Sturgis after the Bear Butte Church closed. He was a faithful servant of the Lord and truly practiced what he preached.

Earl was preceded in death by his wife, Celeste, in 2003; his sister, Edna; brothers, Arnold, Glenn and Joe; and sister-in-law, Elma McPherson.

He is survived by his children, Kathleen (Wayne) Aubert, Denver, CO, Mary (Tom) Millwee, Austin, TX, Wayne (Connie) McPherson, Sturgis, and Larry (Ann) McPherson, Denver, CO; his beloved grandchildren, Chris, Jenny, Nicole, Matt, Kari, Luke, Michelle, Jared, Amanda, Drew and Sean; and great-grandchildren, Jayden, Levi and Caleb. He is also survived by his sister, Mae Keffeler, Sturgis; and brothers, Donald (Mabel) McPherson, Sturgis, and Dale (Dorothy) McPherson, Rapid City; sister-in-laws, Rosalind McPherson, Piedmont, and Maxine McPherson, Sturgis; as well as many nieces and nephews and special friends.

Visitation will be from Noon until 9 p.m. Thursday, April 26, at the Kinkade Funeral Chapel in Sturgis. A wake and scripture service will begin at 7 p.m.

Mass of Christian burial will be held at 11 a.m. on Friday, April 29, 2011, at the St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Sturgis with Fr. Arnold Kari officiating. Burial with military honors by the Sturgis Veterans Honor Guard will follow at the St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis.

Memorials have been established to the St. Martin’s Restoration Fund and the St. Aloysius Cemetery.

Condolences may be sent to the family at http://www.kinkadefunerals.com.