Neighborhood benefit shows strong ties to Graesser family
When tragedy strikes in a rural community, friends respond.
That’s what happened in the Dallas/Colome, S.D. area on March 27, when a benefit was held for the Kevin Graesser family.
Friends and family came together to raise over $100,000 to help with medical bills for the Dallas, S.D. man, who passed away on February 23 due to cholangiocarcinoma.
Tate and Calli Williams were two of the organizers of the benefit.
It started when the couple, who ranch near Letcher, S.D., were headed home from the Black Hills Stock Show in January.
“We were thinking, what can we do to help the Graessers?” Calli said. “We thought we’d do a heifer raffle from our calf crop. By the time we got to Mitchell, we thought, we can’t just do a raffle. We have to go big.”
And go big they did.
Over 150 items were donated for silent and live auctions, from guns to net wrap, and from quilts to a South Africa safari hunt.
The Williams’ heifer raffle was a big part of the fundraising. The heifer brought in $16,000, with a rollover auction, being sold and resold by winning bidders till it ended up with Koupal Angus, Dante, S.D.
Held at the Colome Legion hall, Calli estimated about 300 people were in attendance for the meal, which was donated and cooked by Jack Sieben with JR Feeds, Lisa Forgey, and Teena’s Kitchen.
Kevin Graesser was well-known, well-respected and loved in his community.
Born in 1961, he excelled in sports, once scoring 64 points in a high school basketball game, with 24 rebounds. Baseball was his first love, but he loved whatever sport was in season, said his lifelong friend Dan Forgey.
He graduated from South Dakota State University in 1984 and married Tammy Thomas three years later. The couple lived in Mitchell, where he worked as a loan officer.
But banking wasn’t for him, Dan said, and when his parents, Walt and Arlene, retired, he and Tammy returned to the ranch.
They had their own cow/calf operation, and worked with Dan and his wife Lyn, raising embryos and hosting an annual bull sale from 2010 to 2018.
In 2019, when Kevin and Tammy’s son Derek returned from college, Kevin and Dan ended their partnership, and Kevin, his brother Rod, and Derek, continued to raise cattle, with their first bull sale in 2019.
Along the way, Kevin coached high school football, basketball and more. Under his coaching, the Colome Cowboy football team finished second at state in 2007 and were state champions the next year.
Kevin also coached Little League and town team baseball and played as well. He loved the Twins and the Vikings.
He played amateur baseball until two years ago and was a player in the 1998 Amateur World Series Over 30 tournament.
Dan and Kevin grew up together, a mile from each other, and Dan’s first memory of sports is with Kevin. “We spent a lot of time together. He was like an older brother to me.”
At Colome High School, he was quarterback while Dan was receiver, and in basketball, Kevin was point guard while Dan was the other guard.
For Tate Williams, it was Kevin, in part, who helped him get his start in ranching.
Tate grew up in Mitchell, with no ranching background. He had worked for Gary Bussmus on his Angus ranch, and in 2011, helped Kevin and Rod for their second annual bull sale.
“I ended up staying for longer than anticipated,” Tate said. “While I was there, Kevin offered me the chance to buy some cows and keep them at his place. That’s how we got started raising cows.”
It turned into an annual thing: Tate would help the Graessers get ready for the sale and stay to help with calving.
In 2015, Tate and Calli bought a place near Letcher, but stayed in touch with the Graessers. Derek was in the Williams’ wedding in 2018, and they were both in Derek’s wedding last summer.
Tate and Calli’s son Jack was given a bred heifer by Calli’s parents, the first Simmental to be added to their herd. Jack’s heifer had a half-blood Simmental bull calf the day of Kevin’s funeral. Kevin would have been pleased, Tate said. “He was the one I learned about Simmentals from,” he said. “I had never been around Simmentals till I was in their operation.” They named Jack’s calf Kevin.
Dan remembers his friend as being quiet but “very passionate,” he said. “He hated losing more than he liked winning. He did not like to lose.”
Kevin and Dan’s daughters, Alisyn and Skylar, respectively, are two years apart in age and ran high school track together. The girls set track records that haven’t been beaten yet. Kevin and Dan’s wives played ladies softball together as well.
“You can’t replace him, that’s for dang sure,” Tate said. “He was about as kindhearted a guy as you could get.”
The benefit was proof of the love and respect people had for Kevin and have for his family, Tate said.
“There was an outpouring of support for the family. It showed what kind of a guy he really was. We just got the ball rolling (with the benefit) and there were lots and lots of people who wanted to help and contributed. It showed, that night at the auction.
He was a great guy.”
Kevin and Tammy’s son Derek is married to Cheyenne. Daughter Alisyn is married to Jeff Donnelly, and Kevin and Tammy’s third child, a daughter, Regan, is of the home. Alisyn and Jeff are expecting their first child this summer.
Auctioneers for the fundraiser were Dillon Lambley, Ty Littau, Cody Moore and Rowdy Moore. Heather Moore, Tammy Ravellette, Katie Richey and Calli clerked the event; other volunteer helpers included Karen Baumgartner, Treg Cowan, Dan Forgey, Brett Kenzy, and Don Ravelette.
Kevin served on the St. Gregory church board and was a Knights of Columbus member.
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