Rush Funeral Home Serving communities of western South Dakota since 1985
Header image

Walter "Junior" Van Tassel

  • age 88 of Midland, South Dakota, died July 12, 2012, at the Hans P. Peterson Memorial Hospital in Philip.

Walter Harlan Van Tassel was born February 16, 1924 in Ottumwa, Iowa to Walter E and Ruth Van Tassel. Walter (“Junior” to many) moved to the Midland area in 1929. He lived with his grandparents William and Pearl Lee on the 1912 homestead ranch north of Ottumwa and was raised like brothers and sister with his Aunt Fern (Lee) Konst and Uncle Bill Lee. 

Walter was educated at the Mattison Country School where he graduated the 8th grade. 

Walter continued to farm and ranch with the Lee’s and became very mechanically inclined, working on the farm equipment, keeping it moving during the war years (Baling wire and a good set of pliers will fix anything). 

In 1951 a custom farming crew from Nebraska made its way into the Ottumwa (SD) area. Joann Walker, who was driving truck for her parents, was invited to a birthday party for Bill Lee where she met Walter. There were several trips to Nebraska over the next year that was culminated by their marriage in 1952. Walter continued to work the ranch with the Lee’s and started his family. Walter and Bill Lee established the Golden Willow Ranch on the original homestead, which raised registered Black Angus cattle, Certified Seed, farming and custom grain cleaning. 

Over the years Walter worked hard to improve the quality of seed produced by Golden Willow Seeds. During this time period Walter was recognized with several awards, including the 1991 South Dakota Certified Seed Grower of the year. In 1995 Walter and Joann were invited to participate as ambassadors for People to People mission and traveled to China. They also made trips to various locations in the United States and to Mexico. It was during this period that Walter was able to meet and shake hands with former President Jimmy Carter. 

All who knew Walter had no doubt of his honesty and work ethic. Seldom was work being done that he was not involved in. He enjoyed talking with people who came to visit or have grain cleaned. If you were around him for any amount of time, you got the benefit of his story-telling and his ever present big smile and a sparkle in his eyes. He also enjoyed working on all machinery, from the simplest to the most complex, and could get just about anything back up and running. 

Unfortunately, he never got around to building his “flying machine” but was able to fly in an airplane with son Jim and finally got to ride in a helicopter last summer. One of his favorite pastimes was fishing. He always enjoyed hunting, playing the violin and accordion, and tinkering. 

Grateful for having shared his life are his wife of 59 years Joann Van Tassel; four children: Steven Van Tassel (Susan) of Midland, Sandra Heaton (Dennis) of Midland, Linda Clavel (Ted) of Mankato, Minnesota, and James Van Tassel (Brenda) of Midland; eight grandchildren, Terri (Heaton) Staben, Gina (Heaton) Steinlicht, Jesse Heaton, Brady Clavel, Krista (Clavel) Brown, Michelle Van Tassel, LaRae Van Tassel and Ryan Van Tassel; five great-grandchildren Michael Steinlicht, Megan Steinlicht, Erika Steinlicht, Leah Staben and Zoe Staben; a half-brother Donald VanTassel of Ottumwa, Iowa; a half-sister Eunice Valentine (Phil) of Ottumwa, Iowa; a special Aunt Fern Konst; and a special uncle William “Billy” Lee. 

Walter was preceded in death by his parents Walter and Ruth (Caster) Van Tassel; a half-brother Vern Van Tassel; his maternal grandparents William and Pearl Lee.

Visitation was held 5-7 p.m. Sunday, July 15, at the American Legion Hall in Philip, and one hour prior to the services at the hall on Monday. 

Funeral services were held 10:00 a.m. Monday, July 16, at the American Legion Hall in Philip, with Pastor Kathy Chesney officiating.

Interment was at the Masonic Cemetery in Philip.

A memorial has been established to the Midland Volunteer Fire Department and the Midland Ambulance. 

Cards and memorials may be sent to: Van Tassel Family, 21304 238th Ave. Midland, SD  57552.

Monday, July 16, 2012 - 10:00 a.m.
American Legion Hall
Philip, South Dakota

Pastor Kathy Chesney

Barb Bowen - Pianist
Chuck & Ruth Ann Carstensen - Vocalists
“Amazing Grace”
“How Great Thou Art”

Reuben Vollmer - Mickey Daly

Mark Foland - Glen Hostutler
Tony Willoughby - Ed Heeb
Dean Heeb - Vincent Schofield

“Birthday Buddies”
Vern & Carrol Foland
Lawrence & Ronda Schofield
All Walter’s Grandchildren & Great-Grandchildren

Masonic Cemetery
Philip, South Dakota

Print Obituary Print photos of flowers Print Register Book entries

"Grandpa"  "Great-Grandpa" 

Glen & Joyce Hostutler, Glen David & Kerry, Brian & Misti, Cathy & Roger, Amy & Sean and Families 

Tommy & Janet Hickman 

Marlana Hatch 

Bill & Kenda Huber and Family 

Register book
Click here to sign the book
Your name  Address

Please keep my entry private (visible to the family only)

Entry Text

I have known Walter for a very long time, and have enjoyed some of his stories and great wit. He was a live wire to be sure and enjoyed life to the max. He will be missed very much by all that knew him or had been round him.

Dan Uhrig Philip, SD

So sorry to hear of Walters' passing,and my deepest sympathy to all the family. I am thankful to have had so many memories of him,and will treasure them even more now.

Sherman Burns Sheridan Wyoming

We are thinking of you all at this time, and will continue to do so in the days and weeks ahead. Losing the patriarchs of our families is truly hard-you find a new routine that doesn't include that day to day interaction, but you will find it's not quite the same. When in doubt, as to what or how it should be done, Walter will certainly be whispering to you-if you listen. The oddest things provoke the strongest recollections-we hope you find comfort in those moments. Bless Walter for his hard working hands and strong ethics and honesty. We should learn from that example! Loved that jolly face! Take care.

Jason and Vonda Hamill and Family Milesville