Howard Ralph Merz, 102, of Rhame, ND passed away on July 17, 2020 at Fallon County Long Term Care. Viewing and visitation for family and friends was held at Krebsbach-Kulseth Funeral Home Chapel on July 22. Funeral services were July 23, 2020 at Mound Church, where he was a lifelong member, with burial following at Mound Cemetery.
Howard was born on June 10, 1918 to Leo Merz and Grace Bacon Merz at the home place northwest of Rhame. He worked alongside his father ranching throughout his formative years, including those of the Great Depression. These were hard times for ranchers and his family sold their cattle herd in 1934 when they could no longer afford to keep them. They managed to save the ranch by raising turkeys and milking cows, two commodities that held their value during those trying times.
He attended grammar and high school in Marmarth, graduating in 1937. The summer prior to his final year of school, he and his father traveled to Hardin, MT gaining employment shoveling and hauling beets. The two summers following, Howard ventured further west and worked haying operations on a ranch in Tom Miner Basin, south of Livingston, MT. He earned $2 per day and sent his paychecks home to assist with the bills at the ranch. When he returned each fall, he worked as a hired hand at the neighboring S.M. Hoveland’s T Cross Ranch.
In 1939 his parents moved to Dickinson, at which time he took over operations of the 600 acre homestead where he stayed the rest of his ranching life and raised his family. In April of 1941 he met a pretty gal from Marmarth and after a short courtship, he married Patsy (Burnetta) Gerth on Oct. 5, 1941. Together, they had two children; Harvey was born in 1945 and Nancy in 1948. In 1947, Howard entered into a 5-year partnership with Oscar Weisz leasing the Hoveland place, which gave the duo a total of 10,000 acres. In 1952 he resumed running his own land and built the ranch to be about 2000 acres upon his retirement.
Money was hard to come by in the early years; he told the story of how he tried to borrow funds in 1942 to purchase a tractor, but the bank turned him down. Never the less, he accomplished his ranch work exclusively with horses until 1946, but because of his love for horses he continued to use his draft team for feeding for several decades after, even though he had the automated means to do it.
He was a lover of all animals, especially when it came to his horses and cattle. He knew at a young age he wanted to build his own cattle herd. His L4 branded cattle started mostly as Herefords but he later began breeding them with Black Angus Bulls as he found the baldy calves would produce a better weaning weight. As well, he said the docile nature of the Herefords was a good quality to mix with the Angus.
Always the caregiver, Howard retired in part due to the failing health of Patsy, and after an illness, she passed away in 1985. He then moved to Bowman and cared for his aging father until his passing. In 1989 he married Etha Lawson and he resided on her ranch north of Bowman where in the later years of their marriage he also cared for her until her passing in 2008.
He remained on the north Bowman ranch for a number of years after Etha’s passing and in his early 90’s he was still doing fencing work for neighboring ranchers. A few years following, he moved in with his daughter, Nancy and Jim, still assisting when he could in checking cows and fencing at 100 years young. Shortly before his 101st birthday he moved to Fallon County Long Term Care and recently celebrated his 102nd birthday with his family.
Howard is survived by his youngest sister Grace Privratsky, his son Harvey, daughter-in-law Connie Merz, his son-in-law James Birch as well as his grandchildren Meira Merz, Karla (Edwin) Germann, Lee Ann (Shawn) Preszler, Doreen Birch, Deborah Birch (Nick Werth); and his great grandchildren Nicole, Trey, Justin, Tyler, Kyle, Kayla, Alissa, Allison, John and Lena. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sisters Helen Paulson and Joyce Myron, his wives Patsy (Burnetta) and Etha, and his daughter Nancy. When Howard learned that Nancy had passed, his response was a testament to his faith: “I guess our Lord knows best.”
Due to COVID, there was Fellowship following the services.