Ranching Legacy: Joy and struggle, Hermann family takes it all
August 26, 2013
Every ranch around the world has behind it a legacy of joy intertwined with struggle. Bob and Connie Hermann, second generation ranchers in Perkins County in northwestern South Dakota, are very familiar with both aspects of that heritage.
Bob's Austrian-born father, Gustav Hermann, came to America in 1929 at the age of 24. He lived with an uncle in the Lemmon area until he was able to rent and then buy his own land.
"We live on the original ranch, although the size of the ranch and number of livestock we raise have both increased," Bob says. "My father married Albina Maier, who grew up in this area. My parents milked cows, had laying and butcher chickens, raised hogs, and had a big garden when they started the ranch."
The Hereford genetics still found in Bob and Connie's herd originated with Bob's father. Hereford bloodlines have been the foundation of the cattle herd since Gus began establishing the ranch.
“Although we’d like to slow down a bit. Bob was born here and will live his life here. Ranching is what Bob knows and what he likes. What more could a man want; doing what he enjoys and doing it with his family in the country he loves. We dream of passing the ranch on to our children and they, to their children. Our greatest reward will be to hear ‘well done, good and faithful servant.’”
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"Bob's parents survived the Great Depression of the 1930s," Connie says. "That experience had a strong influence on how they lived. They were always frugal and learned to recycle before that word showed up in anyone else's vocabulary … I remember Bob's mother commenting on wasting water when the kids washed 4-H animals for showing. People living during the Depression knew water was a valuable commodity not to be wasted."
Like many rancher's wives, Connie has held a job off the ranch, utilizing her bachelor's degree and the Master's in Management she recently earned at the University of Mary in Bismarck.
"Education is important," Connie says. "All our children have graduated from college."
The typical slate of drought, hail, winter and spring blizzards have all been part of both generations of the Hermann family.
"The winter of 1996-97 is one that stands out for us," Connie says. "We had a tunnel of snow that was higher than the tractor on both sides. Bob drove the tractor through the tunnel to get to the cattle so he could feed them. That year he had to feed them in the same place every day because the snow was so deep there was no other place they could go."
Drought years have brought intense hardship to the family.
"One year we didn't even take the combine out of the shed. There was no grain to harvest. We only baled 35 bales, the drought was so bad," Bob says. "We've also seen hail storms that leveled our crops and seriously damaged buildings. Those kinds of experiences bring plenty of challenges."
The Hermann family experienced a tragic change in their lives when they lost their oldest son in 1987. He was 14 years old. More major challenges have come in the form of Bob's 2012 cancer diagnosis.
"We were so fortunate that our son, Ryan, was here to take over all the ranch activities in Bob's absence," Connie says. "He is very capable and we knew the ranch was in good hands. Ryan has been ranching with us full-time since his graduation from college. Bob has returned to the ranch full-time."
April 2013 brought an unexpected challenge to the Hermann's when a U.S. Forest Department controlled burn got out of control.
"That hit our family hard," Bob says. "There are so many ramifications from the fire. Some of our cattle have been relocated to the eastern part of the state and some have been sold. We're waiting to see how the remaining cattle fare health wise. It's brought a new wave of emotional, mental and financial pressure to our family."
Connie adds that the family's most recent struggle also brought out the best in others who have helped them during the fire recovery process.
"As a mission project, local church men came to help set corner posts needed to fix the miles and miles of fence destroyed by the fire," she says.
Among the long-held ranching principles the Hermanns say are a foundation of their operation, are good grazing practices, genetic improvements in their livestock and keeping up with advancing farming practices.
"We want to be good stewards of the land," Bob says. "We carefully study genetics of our herd sires so we're assured that we're continually building up the quality of our cattle."
Faith, hard work, honesty and building relationships with neighbors are also important practices for the Hermanns.
"The personal satisfaction we feel when we lay our heads on the pillow each night, knowing we've done our best each day, that's important," Connie says. "Our family works together and we share the sense of accomplishment, knowing we're part of something bigger than ourselves. Probably the biggest reward is passing our faith and values on to our children and grandchildren. They see every day how we live our lives."
In spite of the many struggles the Hermann's have experienced, their hearts are tethered to the ranching life they have enjoyed together for the past 40 years.
"We took over the ranch in the 1970s, when Bob returned from Vietnam, but we have lived here since we were married 40 years ago," Connie says. "We love the sights and sounds of the ranch. Every year I wait to experience the sight of a cow lovingly licking her newborn calf, the beauty of a yellow sunflower field, and the golden harvest fields. The interruptions of our quiet-early mornings are the sound of the Meadowlark's song or a cow bellering for her calf."
The Hermann's also delight in the sight and company of their four grandsons. "I don't know who is more excited when the grandsons come to visit, Bob and I or the grandsons! We love to have them come and they love coming."
"Our three children are all actively involved in farming and ranching," Bob says. Our son Ryan lives on the ranch and works with us. Our other children, Jamie and Laurie own or rent land near the homestead."
Jamie and his family live in Kadoka where he is Superintendent at the Kadoka School. Laurie and her family live on a farm/ranch near Lake Preston.
"Bob and I will continue to ranch," Connie says, "Although we'd like to slow down a bit. Bob was born here and will live his life here. Ranching is what Bob knows and what he likes. What more could a man want; doing what he enjoys and doing it with his family in the country he loves. We dream of passing the ranch on to our children and they, to their children. Our greatest reward will be to hear 'well done, good and faithful servant.'"
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