Ellen Totton, age 85 of Murdo, South Dakota, died November 1, 2013, at the Philip Nursing Home.
Ellen Jean Weiss was born September 23, 1928, at the hospital in Mobridge, South Dakota, the fifth of seven children born to Ernest R.O. and Olga (Wiedmann) Weiss. She was baptized December 9, 1928, at the Lutheran Church of Akaska, South Dakota, with her aunt and uncle Tillie and Emil Wiedman as her sponsors. She lived in the country at Akaska for six years.
In September 1934, the family moved to Parmelee, South Dakota. Her mother, with the help of a good sheep dog, began driving 200 head of sheep south, and her father drove a truck loaded with their belongings. A car carrying the rest of the children was chained behind the truck with the oldest son, Harold, age 11, steering the car. At night they slept in a tent with the sheep around them. By morning, some of the sheep had strayed looking for water, which was very scarce at the time. They had to search some distance to find them but made it to their new home by Parmelee without losing any sheep. When they got to Pierre, the traffic was stopped so they could move the sheep across the Missouri River bridge. They lost the dog at the river so it was more difficult for mother to control the sheep after that. Their new home was a small log house built into a hillside with a sod top and dirt floor located three miles east of Parmelee.
Growing up, Ellen’s time was spent herding sheep and milking cows. She would haul and stack hay, shock grain behind the binder, do chicken and hog chores, beside chopping wood and hauling water to the house.
Ellen went to 1st and 2nd grades at the Parmelee School. In 1937, the family moved to another home in Todd County and there Ellen and her brothers and sisters attended a country school. The family moved across the county line just into Mellette County in 1939. While living there, Ellen attended the Danbury School. Eleen stayed with Rev. and Mrs. Gerhardt Walters while attending a short year at the Prairie View School. She completed her education at the Kaufman School while living with Henry and Theresa Kaufman, where she worked for her room and board by milking 10-12 cows, morning and evening, singing to the cows while she worked.
It was while living with the Kaufman’s that Ellen learned to play music. In the evenings, Henry taught her how to play the guitar. As Henry played the saxophone, guitar or one of several other instruments, Ellen would play along on the piano or guitar, and Theresa would bake some goodies that Ellen would take to school the next day for lunch.
In May of 1944, Ellen was confirmed at St. John Lutheran Church. Since it had rained the night before, the team and wagon were needed to help pull the car part way to the church.
Following in their parents footsteps, several of the Weiss youngsters formed a small band and played for many dances at the Norris Hall. Brother Harold played the trumpet and Ellen and her sister Irene would change off playing the banjo and piano. Another sister, Erna, would help when the girls would sing.
After the older children married and her younger brother Earl was called to serve in the Korean War, Ellen and her parents moved back to Todd County. Along with the milking chores, Ellen rode horseback to check the range cattle and calves and repair fences, and helped feed and water the stock around home in the wintertime. The cow-milking stopped for Ellen in 1952, when she and Bob Totton, a young man from Norris, set a date to get married in the fall.
On October 26, 1952, Ellen was married to Robert Totton at St. John’s by Rev. Harold Keuchle. Their first home was a 24 foot trailer home on the Bill and Leila Dithmer Ranch by Long Valley, where Bob was working. Bob was soon appointed temporarily, then permanent Postmaster at Norris. Bob quickly built a building to serve as a post office that was ready in 1953. Ellen and Bob bought the former postmaster’s home and moved to Norris, and with a little fixing and remodeling settled into their next home. Their daughter, Deanna was born on July 13, 1954.
Ellen was always very active in her community and church. She was the head cook at the Norris School for 17 years. For 30 years, she served as treasurer for the Blackpipe Township, then the Norris Township when the townships divided. She was organist at St. John for 16 years. She taught Sunday School, along with teaching and playing the organ for Bible School for several years. She had a business baking cakes for weddings and special occasions in the community. Ellen could never just sit, so in her spare time she did a lot of crocheting and beautiful fancy work. She loved to bowl and was in the Mission bowling league. For years, Ellen and Bob square danced, travelling to Switzerland once to dance with a group of friends in the Rosebud Square Dance Club.
In the early 1980s, Ellen and Bob began building a new home in Murdo. On Bob’s retirement from the US Postal Service in 1984, she moved with Bob to Murdo where she again became active in her new community. For 20 years, Ellen worked in a motel, played organ at Messiah Lutheran Church Saturday services, and traveled to Pierre with friends to bowl. They were also active members of the square dance club in White River.
In the fall of 2011, Ellen went to live at the Philip Nursing Home where she lived out her last years.
Grateful for having shared her life are her husband Robert “Bob” Totton of Murdo; grandson Justin Holm of Rapid City; great-granddaughter Melinda; son-in-law Daniel Holm of Rapid City; three sisters Erna Heinert of Valentine, Nebraska, Irene Kaufman of Valentine, and Darlene Guenther and her husband Roger of Onalaska, Texas; one brother Earl Weiss of Hot Springs; a sister-in-law Carol Weiss; and a host of other relatives and friends.
Ellen was preceded in death by her dear daughter Deanna; her parents Ernest and Olga Weiss; her 18-month old granddaughter Heather Marie Holm; and two brothers Harold and Richard Weiss; two brother-in-laws Walter Heinert, and James Kaufman; and a sister-in-law Charity Weiss.
Visitation was held 5-7 p.m. CST Monday, November 4, at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Murdo, with a prayer service at 6:00 p.m.
Funeral services were held Tuesday, November 5, at the Messiah Lutheran Church in Murdo, with Pastor Ray Greenseth officiating.
Interment was Tuesday, November 5, at the Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis.
A memorial has been established. Memorials may be directed to P.O. Box 533, Murdo, SD 57559.