Ida R. Jansen

Ida R. Jansen, beloved wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother, was called to heaven on June 20, 2012 after a brief illness. Ida was born October 3,1926, at home near Murdo, SD to Helmer and Edna(Anderson) Liffengren. She graduated from Draper High School in 1944, attended teachers training and started teaching country school at the ripe old age of 17. She often spoke fondly of her years attending and teaching in one room school houses on the South Dakota prairie. 

In 1948 Ida graduated from SDSU with a degree in Art. That year she also married Art “Bud” Jansen in Brookings, SD. These two “Arts” were the loves of her life. Ida always loved learning and attended classes at Montana State College, Dakota Wesleyan University, and Sioux Falls College. Ida continued to teach school before her children were born. Her husband's career moved the family many times during their marriage, and Ida always saw the moves as great adventures. She taught sculpting, painting, and drawing throughout all of South Dakota. She was able to bring out the best in her students with her positive attitude. Ida could always see the best in everyone. Four children were born into Ida and Art’s family. Although Ida never quit being an artist, her faith and her family were her priorities. In 1982 she was honored by being awarded South Dakota Mother of the Year.

She also served as president of the SD American Mothers Association, and has encouraged many young mothers to be the best mothers they can be. Ida was also involved in the Boy Scouts of America, leading cub scouts as her own boys were growing up, and taught Cub Scout training courses for Den Mothers. She believed that Scouting could be a great influence on boys. Her back yard became a popular hang out for all the neighborhood kids when she had her Cub Scouts build a Scout club house out of old packing crates. Everyone got to paint a section and add their own artistic ideas to the creation.

In 1989, Ida was named the South Dakota Centennial Artist of the Year. She also served as SD President of American Pen Women, and was honored with the opportunity to manage the Pen Women’s headquarters mansion in Washington, DC for a month. She also served as president of the Dakota Artist Guild (DAG), taught at the Dahl Fine Arts Center, and was inducted into the SD Hall of Fame. Ida was selected to provide hand painted pine decorations called "Pine Os", for the White House Christmas Tree. She substitute taught in Mitchell, Sioux Falls and Rapid City schools. Ida was also a long time member of PEO, Local Chapter BM. Ida's faith was an integral part of her life. As a mother and grandmother she read Bible stories to her children and taught her beliefs by the way she lived. She was an active member of the First United Methodist Church where she was involved in several committees and Bible studies. She also attended Bible Study Fellowship for a number of years. Ida will be remembered by friends and family for many qualities including her warmth, constantly positive attitude, smile, her unique ability to welcome everyone as family and put them at ease, and her cute high heels. She was spontaneous and would drop everything, even a meal she had prepared, if someone called and wanted her and Art to go out to eat. Relationships were always number one. She also had a wonderful talent for making one pound of hamburger stretch to feed whoever her husband or children brought home unannounced for dinner.Everyone was always welcomed. She will be greatly missed and fondly remembered by her husband of 64 years, Art Jansen, Rapid City; her children, Doug Jansen and his wife, Akane, Tokyo, Japan, Jacki Smoot and her husband, Alan, Rapid City, Don Jansen and his wife, Drew, Eugene, OR, Janene Mudge and her husband, Kevin, Rapid City; eleven grandchildren, Azusa, Andrew, Jenny, Aaron, Gabe, Tess, Megan, Rachel, Josh, Janae, Mikaela; and seven great grandchildren; her sisters, Louise Hullinger and her husband, Cliff, Chicago, IL, Opal Cartney and her husband, Jim, Watertown, her brother, Norman Liffengren and his wife, Judy, Fairbault, MN and her sister in law, Gen Liffengren, Murdo; as well as many cousins, nieces, nephews and friends. She was preceded in death by her parents and her brother, Luverne. Visitation will be from 5:00 pm until 7:00 pm Sunday, June 24, 2012, with a PEO remembrance at 6:00 pm at Edstrom & Rooks Funeral Service at Serenity Springs in Rapid City. Funeral services will be held at 10:00 am, Monday, June 25 at the First United Methodist Church with Pastor Doug Diehl officiating. Interment will be at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis at 3:00 pm. A memorial has been established to the First United Methodist Church and the Black Hills Area Council, Boy Scouts of America.

The Prairie Fire - Helmer Liffengren

Illustration by Ida Liffengren Jansen, Sister of Louise Hullinger

Excerpted From “Next Year Country” 
by Louise Liffengren Hullinger

Folks around Draper, South Dakota, still refer to the summer of l930 as a Scorcher. (Folklore has it that you could fry eggs on the rooftops during August of that year!)

The searing sun turned the treeless plains into a tinderbox; the grasses, curled and brown, lay wilting alongside the road; the drouth-stunted weeds crunched underfoot. An idle flick from a cigarette, a careless spark from a running motor, even the hot sun beating down on a chip of broken glass could ignite the vast prairie turning it into a blazing holocaust.

Morning dawned bright and clear. There was an air of tranquility on the day the prairie fire struck. It was barely past noon when the farmer noted the first faint smell of smoke and, could see, in the distance, along the horizon, the shadowy tracings of a fire.

In the moments it took to reach his tractor he exulted in how much easier it was to plow safety furrows with his new tractor than it had been in the past with a team of horses. With a tractor he could maneuver the dried coulees, could easily cross the rough, untamed prairie.

Round and round the scattered farm buildings the farmer plowed, leaving protective furrows of freshly turned earth. Satisfied that his buildings were safe from fire he thought next to protect his winter's supply of cattle food. The furrows were purple-black and deep, so wide an errant fire could not cross.

As he finished fireproofing his own place, he noticed the wind had switched slightly. Shouting to his wife that he was going to plow around the neighbor's buildings, too, he hurried off, in high gear, cutting through the pasture, heading towards the little cottage where an old couple lived.

They were a little old couple, in their late 70's, stone deaf. They wouldn't have heard about the fire, but by this time they would have smelled it, and seen it, and would have had no way to get out of its path.

The wind, which had increased sharply, began whipping the fire along. Scientists can explain how hot air rises and causes movement which is wind; in the course of a prairie fire, fire begets wind, and when the fire gets a good strong toehold, there's very little that can hold it back.

The farmer could see it coming closer, could see the red tongues of fire consuming the brittle, toast-colored grass.

It was about that time that a neighbor lady from the west came to help. She and her young children, ages four through eight, brought two large cream cans full of water. They were prepared to help beat back the fire.

At almost the same time two rigs of men arrived with barrels of water, and heaps of gunnysacks. Leaping out of the trucks they grabbed the sacks, soaked them in water, and frantically began beating at the fire as it raged in front of them.

The neighbor lady, who hadn't waited to search for gunny sacks, grabbed what she could that wouldn't burn readily. She snatched the heavy denim jeans her eight year old was wearing, doused them in water, and began lashing furiously at the fire which by now was frighteningly near.

Moments later several more rigs of men arrived, all with barrels of water. One of the men, an old timer, looked at the highway, a natural barrier to the fire, and reckoned, gravely, that they would have to start a backfire if they were to break this one's force. He'd experienced many fires, and this one was one of the fiercest.

The wind was flogging the fire into a frenzy. The crackling heat provided a backdrop of sound effects for the treacherous wind. Without a backfire, there could be no stopping this fire.

A backfire was built to consume the combustible materials in the path of a fire, so that it would have no place to go, and would be forced to die. There is a trick to it, a technique, and the old man knew it. He and several others huddled together to protect the flame from the onslaught of the wind, nursing their flame along until it was ready.

With the highway as a safety zone behind them, the men worked, coaxing, channeling, directing their fire towards the big one, until there was nothing left between the two fires to devour.

Taming the rampant fire required all the strength the men had, and even after the wind had died down, and dusk had come, they did not dare to leave.

Wiping sweaty arms across their foreheads, sipping what water was left, they sprawled on the charred earth, wishing it might rain. They were exhausted, but so was the fire.

It wasn't until then that they heard the news about the farmer who had gone to plow the furrows around the neighbor's home. When the capricious fire had turned, it had trapped the farmer. He had jumped from his tractor, and ran back through the fire, protected by leather leggings, remnants of his World War I uniform, and his arms, which he used to shield his face.

When he was found he was dazed and incoherent. The neighbors who found him took him immediately to the nearest doctor, thirty miles away. The tractor, in the perverse way of things, was turning circles, as though performing a slow ballet movement. Treatment for burns in those days was vaseline to be slathered on, and gauze bandages. The neighbors transported him, covered him with an apron, and gave him sips of water from a thermos made from a mason jar wrapped in burlap. When they brought him home he was beginning to be lucid.

All that fall neighbors came to help him with the chores, and to haul him to the doctor. The gauze stuck to his burned flesh and tore at the wounds when it was peeled; the odor of rotting flesh left a stench that had to be borne; the days were filled with unceasing pain.

Without the neighbors the work could not have been done. One of them came nightly to do the chores, and to tell tall tales and jokes to make him laugh. He couldn't smile because that caused the blisters on his face to crack and ache, but his big shoulders shook with laughter, and his eyes gleamed.

Winter came, and with the spring, the earth had healed and so had the farmer. The winter snows had blanketed the earth and the melting rains had carried away all traces of the fire that had ravaged it. When the grasses poked through they formed a soft carpet of green. The plowed furrows looked oddly out of place, a vestige, a reminder of things past.

When the gauze and bandages were removed, the fingers were no longer thick from swelling; no longer was there a fear of infection.

When the first green shoots of grain peeked through the ground, the farmer headed into the fields again. His arms were scarred and brown, in stark contrast to the pink-white of his arms above the elbow, where he had always rolled his blue denim shirt sleeves, but his steps were youthful, and plans for the new season began to take form.

It must have been a year later when a magazine salesman found his way to the farmer's home. "Wasn't it somewhere around here," the salesman asked, "where a man got burned trying to plow around an old couple's place?" But the salesman was anxious to sell magazines and didn't wait for a reply. "They say the old couple never realized he was plowing to try to save their place, and I've heard he never told them."

The farmer traded two old batteries for a subscription to a magazine, and shook the salesman's hand when he left.

"Good luck," the farmer said, and added, "Don't bother to stop at the little farm to the east; the old couple who lived there passed on last winter."

The farmer in the story was my father, Helmer Liffengren, of Draper, South Dakota. We had only recently moved to that farm when the prairie fire broke out, and we did not know any of our neighbors well. But, in Dakota, neighbors were a precious commodity, something that one cherished and greatly appreciated.

I have written this story not only to pay homage to my father, but to cite the Rankins, the Dowlings, and the others who helped in our time of great need. I would like to go even farther than that: I should like this story to honor good neighbors wherever they may be. @

This true story was first published in the May/June, 1993 issue of South Dakota magazine under "Remembering."

Louise Liffengren Hullinger