As we reflect on the women who raised us this Mother’s Day, South Dakota Farmers Union would like to celebrate the many women who support the state’s No. 1 industry – farm and ranch moms. This year, the organization features Cassie Sumption of Frederick and Elsie Meeks of Interior.
Elsie Meeks’ dad, Gib Peck, always used to say, “You can take a ranch kid off the ranch, and they can do anything. You bring a city kid to a ranch, and they don’t know how to do anything.”
This certainly proved true for her.
Growing up the youngest of 10 children raised on a ranch near Porcupine, South Dakota, Meeks would go on to ranch with her husband, Jim, raise a family and build a successful career off the ranch.
In addition to their ranch, much of her resume is related to serving her Pine Ridge community. She helped start and served as the executive director of Lakota Funds, a community development financial institution. She started a grocery store and went on to work for a national non-profit, First Nations Oweesta Corporation, focused on helping tribes start financial institutions.
In 2015, she was recommended by Sen. Tim Johnson and appointed by President Barak Obama to serve as the South Dakota state director for USDA Rural Development. Today, in addition to ranch work, she serves on the board of directors for the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines.
And when she’s asked what prepared her for this career, she references her dad’s saying.
“I learned growing up on the ranch how to be adaptive because out here you have to be a mechanic, horseman and everything else,” she said.
Of all the hats she wore growing up on the ranch, the one she and her identical twin, Ethel, loved the most was working with horses. And rodeo. The sisters loved to rodeo.
“It was the horses. Also, the thrill of the competition and really, just being around rodeo people,” Meeks said. “Rodeo becomes a community and the other contestants become your friends.”
Although Meeks and her second husband, Jim, didn’t officially meet until she was in her mid-20s, Meeks knew who he was many years earlier because of rodeo.
“He was an Indian bronc rider, and we knew who all the good bronc riders were,” she said.
Jim was in the business of putting on rodeos when they did finally meet and eventually marry.
The couple passed their love of rodeo onto their now grown children: JD, Billy, Justin, Amy, Dwan, Jeremy and Luke. They raised bucking bulls and horses and put on rodeos for years.
“Rodeo was all we ever did,” Meeks said. “Rodeo is one of those things that when your kids are competing, it’s not something you just send your kid off to do on their own. You get to know the other parents of other kids. Those were such fun times.”
While raising her children, she shared many of the special parenting moments with her twin sister. She and Ethel were young mothers together. Meeks had three boys and Ethel had two girls.
“Describing what it is like to be an identical twin, is almost like describing something that is just part of you,” she said. “We were like one, almost.”
Today, Meeks is a grandma to 13 and great-grandma to three. When she thinks back to the days when their children were young, it is with fond and happy memories.
“Being a mom brought me so much joy and now being a grandma, the joy it brings - it keeps you in the moment,” she said.
Staying in the moment and enjoying her grandkids was a big help when her sister died, she said.
She feels especially fortunate today because their youngest son, Luke, ranches with them, so Meeks gets to spend lots of quality time with her youngest grandchildren, Narley, 6, and Radley, 18 months.
“I am so blessed,” she said.