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Kunkle Feature: Tribute to women

Babe Fennell, 106, has been interviewed by TV and I doubt that there is any problem for giving her notice in the Review. She is a great South Dakota treasure, an example of the area's healthy environment.

In a country where quickie marriages and easy divorce are common, there remains a sturdy group of women residing on the prairie of Western South Dakota who live life as it should be lived.

Faith, pioneer spirit, strength, natural ability, work ethic, and loyalty all contribute to faithful marriages and long lives. While these qualities are found all over the country, South Dakota, it seems, has been a special example of all that is good about America. Many of the bold and restless followed the Oregon Trail and stopped here to share the faith and values that we all profit by.

While men garnered the titles, hero status, and credit; women, often deceived by their simplicity of manner, were overlooked as incomplete persons. In some ways, they were the lesser part of the union. Life was harsh here in the days of homesteaders, wars, and the Great Depression. Sadly, it is only recently that society has recognized the woman’s special kind of complexity as a many-sided person and the most important part of the family circle.

We haven’t said it as often as we should – but, let’s admit it – women are really smarter than most men. They are easier to talk to, better listeners, more compassionate, publicly accepted as the primary caregivers, more patient, gentle, and dependable. God gave them life’s greatest mission as a partner in the creation of life. Men also are a necessary, but brief, part of the creative process; but it is the woman who carries the heavy load in a child’s development. A mother’s job is one that never ends – she offers a spiritual legacy of ordinary things that are too often overlooked. It may be as simple as wiping a tear or sitting up all night to provide comfort and security. A woman would even give her own life to save her child.

In our modern world, women may also have to bring home a paycheck to keep up with living expenses. But, at the end of the day, guess who usually does the shopping, the cleaning, and the meal preparation??? … at least most of it!

Nothing works right when Mom’s not home!! But she is always ready with sympathy or sentimental intimacy of a kind that is gender specific but not a sign of weakness. At last, women have succeeded in clarifying their unique vision and are prepared for respect in a male-oriented world. It is possible now for them to do anything they want and that often includes having a family of their own.

Sue Heltzel is a sales representative at Philip Motor. She said, “I was a military kid; Dad was a career Army man and we lived all over.” She doesn’t live in Philip because of birth, but chose to in an interesting way. Her sister, Carol, married a man from Philip and when Sue came here to look it over, she married her sister’s husband’s brother, Don Heltzel. That was over thirty years ago. “I missed the bright lights and the variety of life in the big city, but have fallen in love with Philip,” Sue said. “And the people are just the greatest and that has made up for anything I’ve ever experienced before.” Her hobby is photography as a means of self-expression and making people happy.

Phillis Thorson was born and raised in this area, a Philip native. She is passionate about preserving and sharing this community’s rich heritage with all those who are interested. She brings joy through her work with the Community Betterment Committee, to those who visit her bed and breakfast, and to all those she meets. Phillis taught school “right out of high school”. She had to start a fire in the school’s wood stove every morning and a cowboy who worked for Bob Jones started to help her. Leonard Thorson lit her fire fifty-five years ago and it has never gone out!

Lucille Emerson, 81, is a fifty-seven year resident of Philip. She taught school in the Brookings area and in Philip for twenty-one years and raised four children. She said everyone in Philip is a neighbor. Lucille remains active at Sacred Heart Parish here.

Emilie “Emmie” Reedy, 85, loved meeting people when she worked at Zeeb Pharmacy in Philip and said, “It is a treasure to live here in a town like this.” She lives alone now, her husband, John, died in 1987. They owned a ranch 15 miles northwest of town and later he was named highway superintendent for Haakon County.

Marie Mortellaro, 80, was raised on a farm near Grindstone and has been married to husband, Frank, for sixty-two years. They have lived on their ranch north of town for thirty-six years. Marie said, “I’m the luckiest person in the world.” She loves the quiet, peaceful, fresh air here. Marie and Frank have raised three children and have been a wonderful example for them. Frank, who still moves cattle around at age 86, came in for a plate of lasagna. As the son of Italian immigrants, he learned to never miss that opportunity!

Babe Fennell, 106, makes all the other ladies feel like kids! She was born near Ash Creek in Haakon County and has lived all her life breathing the fresh air of the area. She was a homemaker who lost her husband about thirty years ago. Bernard, a son in his 80s, lives in California. Babe lived her adult life in Philip where her husband was a grocer. In her 90s, Babe would walk to the nursing home “to visit the old people”! “The secret to long life,” she said, “is oatmeal, popcorn, and long walks!” Father Ron Garry is the pastor of Sacred Heart Catholic Church and said, “Babe has seen tremendous change in a lifetime … from horse and buggy to spaceship.” He also said her kind smile for everyone she meets reflects the true love of God.

Women here are apt to be traditional, making Jell-O like their mothers did and sharing their values. This is a town where people know and care about each other. When one neighbor is sick, the whole town is sick with them. Joy and pain are shared by all.