Ron "Butch" Merritt
Ronald L. Merritt was born in Sturgis, South Dakota, on August 12, 1940. His father had seen a cartoon called “Butch the Burglar” and tagged his new son with the nickname “Butch.” Butch has one brother, Carroll, six years older than he, whose personality has always been much like the boy in the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue.”
Here, Butch picks up the story:
“As Carroll’s little brother, I was often the target of his wrath, and I grew up to be a tough kid. My dad was a mechanic and, in later years, a carpenter. My mom was a cook. She was the glue of the family. We spent most of my childhood in Sturgis but also lived for a year or two in Deadwood and Hot Springs, South Dakota, and for a couple of six-month periods in Longview, Washington.
“I was one of those students whom teachers dread most—unmotivated and mouthy. In the seventh and eighth grades, I was sent to the principal’s office about once a week. I coasted through high school with about a “D” average, and after graduation, I worked on construction as a laborer and drove a cement truck for a local contractor.
“In 1960, I married my high school sweetheart, Marlene. I had $80 in the bank and an old 1950 Chevy. Three months later, the contractor I worked for went broke, and I managed to find a temporary job working in an open pit iron mine for six months. When it ended, I drove a gravel truck for a while and then worked as a chauffeur, driving military and civilian brass to Titan missile bases around Ellsworth Air Force Base, near Rapid City, South Dakota. That lasted a year.
“When my first child, Steven, was born in July of 1961, I was having trouble finding a new job. The telephone company advertised for laborers to dig holes, but when I applied I was told I had to have finished two years of college or earned a “B” average in high school. The importance of an education became painfully clear, and so I decided to go to college.
“I applied for a job as a psychiatric aide working with mental patients at Fort Meade VA Hospital near Sturgis. I got the job, and my hours were such that I could work the swing shift and attend school in the mornings and early afternoons. When I went up to high school to get my transcripts, I can still remember the counselor’s helpful words: ‘Butch, you’ll never make it.’
“Miraculously, I did well on the college entrance tests, and in 1962 I enrolled in Black Hills State College at Spearfish, South Dakota. I worked from 3 P.M. until 11 P.M. on the violent ward of the VA hospital and attended Black Hills State College during the day.
“Our first daughter, Lisa, was born in May of 1963, and our second son, Brian, came along in August of 1964.
“Less than four years after that, in 1966, I received a Bachelor of Science degree in Education with an English major and Sociology minor, and that fall I took a job in St. Ignatius, Montana, teaching high school English. I hated it and quit in December. I took my three kids and pregnant wife back to Sturgis and set out to be a game warden. That idea failed because my education was entirely in the wrong field. The result: I was unemployed for six months.
“My brother had moved to Wrangell, Alaska, a year earlier, and he said he thought I might get a job there as a longshoreman. I left my wife and two kids with her parents and took my oldest son with me. Almost immediately, I went to work on the green chain at the big sawmill in Wrangell, and two months later I went back to South Dakota and picked up Marlene, Lisa, Brian—and two-week-old Michelle. I loaded them into an old 1961 Ford, borrowed $300 from the bank, and drove off on the five-day trip to Wrangell.
“I worked at the sawmill that summer, but in the fall I got a job teaching junior high English and Social Studies. I taught in the Wrangell School District for the next 22 years.
“I retired in 1989 and began trolling full-time.”
Where to buy in print
by Ron "Butch" Merritt
Ron Merritt has been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years in Southeastern Alaska. Born a landlocked South Dakotan, his journey to becoming a troller is an intriguing narrative on fishing, family, and the Alaskan way. In this rollicking book he shares some of his most exciting, humorous and heartfelt tales, experiences gathered from a life at sea.
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