Winner says goodbye to Taylor Watzel
“He had a love for animals that was unbelievable; he loved to be here on the farm. He just was an amazing kid, absolutely amazing,” said Barb Watzel of her 16-year-old son Taylor Dean Watzel. He was trapped in a grain bin Oct. 18 and died in Sioux Falls at 7 p.m. the day after.
“Why Taylor? Why such a good kid? And honestly, a lot of my staff members are struggling with that same thing,” Winner High School Principal Gerald Witte said in an interview with The Mitchell Republic. “Today’s the day where there’s probably a lot more life lessons than academic lessons.”
The students gathered in the days following the death of their peer to discuss the loss.
“He was a pretty decent wrestler, a pretty good football player,” Dean Watzel said of his son. “He was our easy kid; stuff just kind of came to him. School came easy to him. He didn’t overexert himself in school and was happy to be an A/B student. We gave him a little guff, but stuff just came easy to him.”
The high school junior was passionate about the family’s Midnight Ranch, and custom feedlot said his mother Barb Watzel.
“Handling livestock is one of those things that can’t be taught. He enjoyed it and loved it so much,” Dean said. “We never asked him to do anything that he’d roll his eyes about, he’d just say, ‘OK’ and go do it. He enjoyed every aspect of farming, but especially enjoyed the livestock. Taylor loved calving in the spring of the year, checking heifers, pulling calves. He would volunteer for other people’s heifer checks.”
Dean said there were many Saturday nights in which Taylor was happily checking heifers at home instead of out with friends.
“Taylor had that knack for working cattle. He could pick a sick one out, doctor it. Whatever you were doing he wanted to be part of it. He enjoyed school and football, but his passion was out here on the farm. He didn’t hunt, didn’t fish, didn’t do anything like that; he enjoyed doing this sort of stuff.”
A lifetime of working on the family farm formed Taylor into the person he became.
He also stepped up to the role of big brother to his older brother Tristan, a senior at Winner High School, Barb said; Tristan was in a farming accident as a two-year-old and lost mobility in one arm.
“Tristan is an exceptional kid too, but there’s just certain things he would try and couldn’t do and Taylor took that over,” Barb said. “He took care of his sister Madaline too. She’s 13 and bossy and kept those boys under her finger and toeing the line.”
Taylor was involved in 4-H since he was 8, in FFA through high school, and competitive in football and wrestling. He was on the school’s merit roll and maintained perfect attendance. Taylor also acted as a Tripp County Flag Football coach and had plans to take the course to become an EMT.
Throughout his high school years, Taylor did all the hay baling for his family’s feed operation.
“For quite a few years, we have had a feedlot and custom feeding, but in the last 4 years, we’ve been a certified custom feedlot,” Barb said. “Taylor has done that his whole life. We do a lot of haying, and he was always out in hay field helping me.”
His passion for livestock was evident in the show ring.
“This last fair, in August, he took a steer calf and came away with grand champion feeder steer in his class,” Barb said. “He really enjoyed the cattle end of it. He had this thing about animals and with animals, the rest of us don’t have that, but he did.”
“As far as us being parents, we just kind of gave the kids the boundaries; they kind of shaped themselves. We still teach them a lot of things, but they taught themselves a lot of things too just by doing farm work and being around it,” Dean said. “Taylor had respect for animals and livestock, the way business works, and the family farm and income; they knew how to control their money. Taylor, just this fall, bought himself a tractor. What 16 year-old-kid wants to buy a tractor? It was a 40-20, an older tractor, but he said, ‘When I can upgrade, I have something to trade in as a downpayment on something better. You don’t find many kids thinking that way.”
Taylor had college plans that won’t be fulfilled.
“He was planning on going to [South Dakota State University in] Brookings to go into some sort of ag degree,” Barb said. “Dean wanted him to go to [Dakota Wesleyan University in] Mitchell so he’d only be two hours away instead of four.”
“He wanted to pursue ag, maybe ag business then come back to the feedlot,” Dean said. “Taylor had told us this summer he wanted to go to SDSU. We joked that day. I asked, ‘Can’t you go to Mitchell? That way you’d be close to home to help with chores and be home almost every night.’ He said, ‘I’ll be home on the weekends.’”
Taylor was honored by his football team and community Oct. 21 at a football game with a moment of silence before kickoff. His jersey, number 66, was displayed on the sideline as his team defeated Jones County/ White River.
“Taylor had the biggest personality, and he wasn’t always the center of something. He was just happy,” Dean said. “He was pretty wise for his age; pretty diversified for his age.”
His parents said the community displayed how special Taylor was.
“We’ve had people send us cards and call, people Taylor knew through FFA and 4-H camp. He really enjoyed those things and working with kids and meeting different kids. It means a lot to us,” Dean said. “We knew that he was pretty special, but other people saw it too. Everybody thinks their kids are pretty special, when you see what the whole community or state or out-of-staters think of him, especially in his short life of 16 years, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.”