John Martin Erk: 1925-2014
John Martin Erk was born September 21, 1925, to Ludwig and Anna (Jestl) Erk on the family ranch between Castle Rock and Deer’s Ears Buttes north of Newell, South Dakota and near the little homestead settlement of Deermont. He was the fourth of five children.
He passed away October 23, 2014.
His childhood included hard work and herding sheep on the open range. He and his brothers built some of the “stone Johnnies” that still grace the hills and small buttes of the ranch while herding sheep. He attended the Deermont School thorough the eighth grade. After eighth grade, John stayed home and worked on the ranch while his brother, George, finished high school. Later, he attended St. Martin’s High School in Sturgis for one year, then returned to the ranch at age 18.
He was drafted into the Army in 1945 and went to basic training at Camp Robinson in Little Rock, Arkansas. He transferred to the Army Air Force and was shipped to Japan in the spring of 1945. He served there through December 1946 when the draftees were sent home. John returned home to the ranch in January of 1946.
He formed a partnership with his brothers, Joe and George, in the 1950s (later dissolved in the 1970s) and they started the registered Rambouillet sheep that are still raised on the Erk Ranch today.
In 1952, he met Mary Klein at the county fair and they were married Feb. 24, 1954.
They started building a new home in 1954. Mike was born January 1955, Jim in December 1955, Paul in October 1958, Mary Ann in February 1962 and Rosemary in August 1972.
In 1977, John and Mary bought a house in Newell so the kids could go to school and John drove back and forth to the ranch. In the mid 80s Paul took over the ranch and John moved to town and pursued the sheep order buying business he had started while he was still on the ranch.
He was an order buyer of sheep for nearly 30 years and finally retired when he was 84, after buying lambs for feeders all over the country.
John was a founding member of the Castle Rock Volunteer Fire Department and the Knights of Columbus Divine Shepherd Council #13088. He was also a member of the Castle Rock Election Board, past council member of St. Mary’s Tar of the Sea Catholic Church, Butte County Planning Commission for over 20 years, Honorary Chapter Farmer of the Newell FFA, and a lifetime member of the VFW.
Throughout his life, John’s faith and trust in God kept him going through the good times and the bad. He was proud of his family and was a loving husband, dad, grandpa and great-grandpa. His devotion to the sheep industry and to the fine wool Rambouillets that have been the cornerstone of the Erk Ranch never wavered. In his final months, he declared that he had had a good life. It was not an easy one, but a good one and he would not have changed a thing.
John is survived by his beloved wife of 60 years, Mary; sons, Mike and Carla (Varland), Hot Springs, Jim and Kerry (Fenton), Buffalo, Paul and Beth (Curley), Newell; daughters, Mary Ann and Andre’ Fischbach, Seoul, South Korea, and Rosemary and Paul Hockran, Carlisle, Pa. He was a proud grandfather of 12 and a step-grandfather of 5. He was a great-grandfather of 10 and a step-great-grandfather of 7. He is also survived by his sister, Elizabeth (Neil) Chauncey, Denison, Texas; sisters-in law, Helen Erk, Spearfish, Violet Erk, Vale, as well as a host of nieces, nephews and friends.
He was preceded in death by his parents; brothers, Joe and George; sister, Sister Celine O.S.B.; and daughter-in-law Micki (Collins) Erk.
Memorials have been established to St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church and The Castle Rock Volunteer Fire Department.
Mass of Christian burial was, Oct. 27, 2014, at St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Newell.
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