Tragedy Stricken: Communities of Ross and Stanley ND mourn with family
A typical day on the ranch for brothers Garrett Hoelscher and Alex Ruud turned to disaster, and family and community are still reeling from the impact of an accident that claimed the lives of the two young men. They were on their way to move haying machinery to a different field when their side-by-side was struck by a vehicle on North Dakota Highway 1804 on July 5.
Both young men shared a love for farming and ranching with their parents Jeff and Carmen Ruud, and their brothers J.J. and Logan, Alex’s slightly older twin. Garrett’s passion was cattle, and he had already built up his own herd of around 100 cows. Alex had many passions and talents but knew his tractors and equipment inside and out and was a capable hand with both machinery and livestock.
It was not exactly a routine day, as Carmen Ruud had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She and Jeff were headed to Fargo for her first round of treatments while the boys were willing and able to keep everything going at home.
Then, four hours away, they got the unthinkable phone call and immediately headed back home.
“One of our neighbors was on the scene of the accident almost immediately after it happened,” Jeff said. “Someone called me and asked if there was anything that should be done on the ranch, and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ When we got home there were three rakes and eight balers in the yard.”
Family, friends and neighbors all showed up and pitched in. Through the week between the accident and the funeral, a constant stream of people brought food and other necessities, raked and baled hay, did chores and yard work so that Jeff and Carmen and Garrett’s father Bruce Hoelscher could focus on the difficult decisions facing them.
Both Garrett and Alex were athletes and loved competing for Stanley High School. Garrett was a three time state qualifier in wrestling in the heavier weight classes and placed 8th in his senior year; Alex loved to run cross country and track and also qualified for state three times. Garrett played football and participated in FFA and 4-H. Alex was involved in 4-H and was a talented musician. He played the piano and the drums, all of the saxophones, and was a self taught bassoonist! He enjoyed participating in the International Music Camp one summer.
Garrett was a skilled cowboy and loved his cattle. He had taken his talents to Dickinson State University where he competed on the rodeo team as a team roper and steer wrestler. He was the go-to guy that all the neighbors called for help with brandings and day work. He was in the process of fixing up a neighboring place so that he would have his own spot for his cows, himself and his faithful pup, Jim.
“We kind of had to use horses on the ranch,” Jeff said. “We run cattle on the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge, which is the largest wilderness area in North Dakota. Rules there prohibit four-wheelers, so we ride a lot. Garrett and I were on the Ross Ranchers ranch rodeo team together as well.”
There were some memorable wins, and Jeff said that Garrett’s belt buckles are now a bittersweet treasure. Recently, at the ranch rodeo held at the North Dakota State Fair, Garrett and Alex were honored by the /- (Slash Bar) team, named after Garrett’s brand, who led their horses riderless through the arena prior to the competition. Hats were off as friends, family and strangers alike paused for a moment to remember the hard working young men who always had a smile and a helping hand.
Alex was a good hand with the cattle and could do just about any job on the farm and was enthusiastic about a variety of things. He loved airplanes and flying and dreamed of becoming a pilot; he studied aircraft and could tell you the make, model and speed of any plane. He considered following his love of music to become a band director and thought about becoming an astronomer. Most recently, his love of plants, gardening and the farm had him thinking in the direction of agronomy as a career.
“Alex liked helping bale,” Carmen said. “This was his first summer in the cutter since J.J. was living away from home for the first time, and he did a great job. He ran the combine and was learning how to run the sprayer. He didn’t drive the truck on the highway yet but he knew how to drive it in the field. He liked to garden, to be in the dirt and make things grow.”
“Stacking bales, feeding cows, fixing equipment, raking hay—those boys had done it all,” Jeff said.
Neighbors and family have continued to show up with tractors and machinery or a helping hand to keep the haying and harvest going on the farm as Carmen and Jeff continue to travel to Fargo every other week for cancer treatments. At home they are trying to manage to keep things going without two of their right hand men.
“As soon as the neighboring ranchers heard about the accident they showed up and started putting up hay,” said Cody Roteliuk, a friend of the family. “They came back together on Wednesday and finished the hay in Ross. A few days later another crew put up their hay down on land in the Parshall area. They also provided meals for the haying crews each day. It is just what happens when tragedy strikes in rural North Dakota.”
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