Junice (June) Rothermel was born to John and Regina (Danielson) Lerseth in St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, in 1924, the youngest by five years of four children. She spent her first eight and a half years on a Wisconsin dairy farm, the reason, she claimed, that she always believed butter was far superior to margarine.
In September of 1933, her parents sold the farm at auction and spent the fall moving across Minnesota and South Dakota to a homestead in Harding County, South Dakota. June celebrated her ninth birthday near Gustave where her father would eventually sell gasoline and a few other things from the front of their home and serve as postmaster of what is now a ghost town.
June attended the country school near Gustave until it was time to go to high school. Her parents arranged for a teacher certified to teach grades 1-12 to teach June for her ninth grade year. For the rest of high school she worked for room, board, and tuition at Augustana Academy in Canton, South Dakota. “We were strictly supervised,” she said.
Upon graduation in 1943, she attended school at Black Hills Teachers College in Spearfish where she earned a teaching certificate for a “common” district. She taught rural school at Gustave for four years.
Her father’s illness at that point turned her into a farmer. She learned to milk cows and to drive the new Case tractor to pull a combine to harvest the crops with the help of some neighbors. She really was never an outdoor girl, but she was a very determined person.
She moved to Belle Fourche in the summer of 1948 where she worked for the County Superintendent’s Office at the Courthouse. She joined St. James Lutheran Church and sang in the choir with Esther Rothermel who invited her home to dinner. June 9, 1949, June married Esther’s brother Albert (Lolly) who had returned from Naval duty during the war and worked at Adam’s Company warehouse.
June stayed home for a few years after the arrival of son Ricky in 1950, but she returned to work in the fall of 1955 as the secretary to Belle Fourche High School Principal Clarence McGirr. When he became the superintendent, she followed him to his new office and stayed in the system as either Secretary to the Superintendent or Secretary to the School Board until her retirement in 1986. “I liked bookkeeping better than teaching,” she said. Always precisely organized and correct and alway smiling, she managed, without a computer, a huge amount of data and a number of superintendents and business managers over her career.
Work was not everything. She was a pivotal part of her husband Lolly’s large family, and she was always active at St. James Lutheran where she served on several boards and as a Sunday School teacher. Her only concern was that in the membership lists for the annual reports, women were listed as Mrs. Someone. “I have a name,” she said. “Women shouldn’t be called by their husband’s name.” After her retirement, she joined the quilters to craft countless comforters to send to missions.
She and Lolly took great pride in their son, and they welcomed his wife Linda in 1977 as a true daughter, but it was the grandchildren who stole their hearts. Their plans of retirement, time with the grandchildren, and travel changed with Lolly’s death in 1985. In 1990 June sold her house, and she and her Siamese cat D.C. moved in with her son and his family. Humming sweet songs around the kitchen, she baked the most fantastic kuchen, chauffeured kids, listened to music lessons, and was an unfailing and calming presence for a young family with two active children and two working adults. Before it was trendy, she was a testament to the fact that grandchildren should be raised near their grandparent.
After the grandchildren went off to college and work, June moved to Spearfish to live near her sister and her husband to lend a hand with her care. She decorated her apartment with a tape measure to decide exactly how much more furniture she could add to what was already there and with stacks of catalogs to order that latest thing. Long before it was trendy, she began to add essential oils to her long list of things that “are good for you,” (such as butter.)
In 2010, she became the first resident at Belle Estate Senior Living, formerly the Country Place. Her smile and sweetness endeared her to the staff and the residents. Her sparkling jewelry became her trademark. She told everyone she met that she had not intended to live so long and was ready to go to heaven. After nearly 94 years of gentle and unquestioning faith, she was finally welcomed home on Saturday, November 10th, 2018.
She leaves behind her son Rick and his wife Linda, grandchildren Joe and Renee Rothermel and Kate and Chris Abbott, great grandchildren Elanor, Jason, and Miriam Abbott and many nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband Albert in 1985, her brothers Orville and Fredrick Lerseth and her sister Alice Heggem and their spouses.
Services are Tuesday, November 20 at 10:30 am. under the direction of the Leverington Funeral Home of the Northern Hills, followed by graveside rites at the Black Hills National Cemetery. A memorial has been established to the Belle Fourche St. James Lutheran Church Sound and Light upgrade.
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