2021 Black Hills Stock Show Silver Spur Hall of Fame: Mary London
While her lifelong contributions to the Black Hills Stock Show, Central States Fair, and the Midwest horse industry are illustrious, Mary London’s humility and selflessness are just as well known.
The honored horsewoman served on the Central States Fair’s board of directors for around 20 years, beginning in 1995. She was able to bring the ranchers to town for their own competition, and was instrumental in creating a more versatile, quality-driven aspect to the horse sale. Her dedicated and creative efforts are obvious to everyone, except maybe herself. She diverted most accolades to her friends and other board members when asked about her accomplishments.
London grew up in northern Brown County, South Dakota, on a farm near Aberdeen. “To me, I led an idyllic life. We lived in the Elm River Valley, which was just gorgeous. We had unlimited area to ride in, and it was a great childhood,” London said. She was always active in 4-H, in various ways – from showing her dad’s commercial-turned-club calves, to the forestry and gardening activities. Her interest in horses began when she was 5 years old, when her dad (an auctioneer at the local sale barn) brought home a pony in a stock truck. London said she rode the pony in the back of the 6 by 8 foot truck.
“It was surprising because my dad didn’t like horses, but this was one amazing pony. He stayed with us until after I was married. He taught us three girls so much about horses. He wasn’t necessarily a nice pony because he would bite and he would kick, but he taught us respect and what to look out for.”
Horses weren’t her only interest or hobby growing up. A bit of a renaissance woman, she competed in high school sports, was on the student council, the debate team, and the editor of her school newspaper. When she was a sophomore, her family was asked if she’d be willing to drive the school bus, since they lived at the end of their route. Horses remained the forefront, though.
“New neighbors moved in and built a thoroughbred breeding operation. Rather than know the presidents of the United States, I knew the chronological order of all the Kentucky Derby winners. I would spend part of the summers feeding when they were out of town and halter-breaking colts. We went to various racetracks across the Midwest in the summers, and I still have a love of thoroughbreds today. The highlight of my honeymoon was seeing Secretariat at Claiborne Farms in Kentucky.”
London is grateful for being exposed to what she considers good, sensible horse people. Knowing quality horses, the ins and outs of horse sales, and everything in between she attributes to her husband, people with good reputations, and the racehorse industry.
“I was interested in the conditioning of a horse. The goal of the gentleman I worked for was to increase the stride of his horses by a quarter of an inch. He said he could win a lot of races by doing that, and he did it. He didn’t look at winning by three lengths, he just wanted to increase the stride and I always remembered that. Keeping those small goals eventually turned into something big. “
London’s intense interest in the horse industry carried over to interest in the Black Hills Stock Show, so when she received a call asking if she’d be on the board, she agreed- but turned the 45-minute, once-a-month meeting into something to be taken more seriously.
“Things transpired that the fair wasn’t in a great operating position, and we were able to hire Ron Jeffries to be the fair manager. He applied for the position and that was instrumental in saving the Central States Fair. There was a great board of members like Hugh Ingalls, Dick Bray, and Lyndell Pederson, who had such a common-sense approach, realizing we couldn’t provide activities that didn’t financially work for the fair. We all tried to put some creative juices together. Eliot Kammerer served as our board president and Gary Jensen, and they were pivotal also in getting some things turned around and heading in the right direction, which took a few years. I have to give them credit for the sound judgment that was used.”
Ron Jeffries, Black Hills Stock Show general manager since 1996, gives the praise right back to London. “She was involved in the horse community in Rapid City for many years, which is what drew her to service on the Fair Board. She served on the fair board at a time when finances were difficult. The fair was broke, and we were trying to hold the fair together on a shoestring. Mary served on the boards of a couple different horse clubs and 4-H clubs, and she was able to bring regular events to the fairgrounds to help build it back into profitability.”
One regular event that London was able to bring to the fairgrounds was the ranch horse competition. She was trying to think of something to bring the rancher to town with his horse- not the roper, not the show horse, just the rancher if they wanted to do some competition. She approached her friend Denny Selting, and together they created and held the first ranch horse competition in 1998, with about 20 entries, held at the Rounds Arena. They secured sponsorships, moved indoors, and found great success. AQHA eventually came up to film the competition, expanding and improving it. London said she had great fun being involved in the creation of the competition, and when leaving the board 20 years later, the event was seeing over 200 entries.
She also served on the Horse Sale committee. “The horse market was on the upward go. People were really demanding a broke horse, something that could perform and do something. I thought rather than make it somebody’s production sale, we needed to offer a variety of broke horses. We started screening them the best we could through pictures at first, then throughout the years they would look at videos. This was before the event center, so I admired people for consigning a horse because they’d have to stall it at the fairgrounds, then on a cold, snowy day, haul the horse down to the Civic Center and tie it up with thousands of people and I thought, these folks are really serious about selling a horse if they can go through all this.”
Relating to her drive to see quality broke performance horses at the sale, her feelings towards the horse industry’s breakdown of niche specialties bothers her. “It seems like we have so many facets of horses now. We have barrel racers, reiners, cutters–the horse industry is becoming more of a specific industry. That bothers me. I think it’s taking away from the ability of the horse as an animal to succeed in many different venues.”
After her daughter graduated high school, London was set on selling the cutting horse Maggie had used. After a friend convinced her to compete, London herself cut on the horse for 10 more years, then went on to trail ride with him, going to the Bighorn Mountains. “I just see how versatile the horse is, and I hate how much we concentrate on one event or sell them as a one-event horse. Maybe we’re getting away from that now, but you used to come to our sale and everything was a heading horse or a heel horse. That doesn’t mean those horses can’t go down the road or down the trail.”
London’s daughter, Maggie Klapperich, said although London was a stay at home mom, it sometimes didn’t feel that way. “She spent hours in meetings and on the phone the entire year working on the Stock Show. By the time the end of January arrived, it was just exciting to see the result of the countless hours the volunteers put into it. So my favorite memory was the people she met along the way and how they became family to us. The horse sale weekend was always a favorite, as it was a chance to catch up with friends and family – and of course it was fun to see who what buying what. My dad, who had been a ringman at that sale my entire childhood, died Monday after the Stock Show in 1998. I still remember my mom putting in many hours at the civic center that week. I was always so proud of how she was a part of helping that sale grow to what it is today,” Klapperich said.
London’s passion for helping and volunteering in her community and her dedication to the horse industry stems from the basic idea of educating about agriculture. Her belief is we should all know where our food comes from. She used to practice plant and grain identification with her daughter, and was in awe when one of her daughter’s friends had never been off Interstate 90. London said she pulled over and started pulling out sunflowers and corn stalks. “What feeds us is the backbone of this country, and that’s the livestock and grain industry. We need to continue to make it easy for the youth to be involved. Not all of them can live on farms or ranches, but they can at least know what they’re about.”
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