James Eugene “Gene” Wickersham
James Eugene “Gene” Wickersham, 85, of Rapid City, SD died peacefully on Tuesday, March 11, 2014 at the David M. Dorsett Healthcare Center in Spearfish, SD. He was born on Sept. 11, 1928 in Gettysburg, SD. He was the fourth of five children from James LeRoy “Roy” and Vesta (Chiles) Wickersham, and lived most of his life in Gettysburg, SD.
Much of Gene’s younger years were spent on the family homestead at Cheyenne Creek, 13 miles west of Gettysburg, one mile South of Lake Hurley. During the Great Depression, some of the siblings moved to family nearby Hannibal, MO. Gene attended 1st and 2nd grade in Missouri, returned to Gettysburg for the 3rd and 4th grade, and attended West Sanner Country School for the 5th through 8th grade. He attended Gettysburg High School into his second year before working full-time on the farm with his dad.
The US Army called Gene to duty in March of 1951. He served with the 687th Engineer Water Supply Company and was stationed in France. Gene was honorably discharged after the Korean Conflict and returned home to the farm near Gettysburg. He married his first wife, Angetta Marie Tobin, on Dec. 2, 1953 and they had one daughter, Karen. They later divorced.
Gene moved to Lead, SD, where he worked for Homestake Mining Company and married Mary Lou Work on Dec. 16, 1956. They had their first two sons, Timothy and Jamie, before moving to Gettysburg to operate the Windsor Hotel with Gene’s father. They added a daughter, Sandy, and two more sons, Todd and Michael. They later divorced.
Gene married Joyce Mary O’Meara Biedenfeld on Oct. 1, 1971 and became a step-father to her five children, Dennis, Barb, Nancy, Janet and Jerry. He and Joyce had four more children, Scott, James, Ted and Ann. They divorced in 1999.
Gene’s father purchased the Windsor Hotel in 1960. The historic hotel offered a night’s rest to many and a home to some, including Gene’s family. During Gene’s time, the Windsor operated as a depot for Jackrabbit Bus Lines, served as a pick-up location for Buhl’s Dry Cleaning, and the VFW club operated in the basement. Gene and family tore down the Windsor in 1992. Gene also rented farm land 45 miles northwest of Gettysburg. He stopped farming and took work at the Potter County Courthouse as a custodian. Through the years, Gene worked with the VFW club and did various carpentry jobs in the Gettysburg area. After retiring, Gene spent some time with family in California, but the majority of his remaining days were spent in the Black Hills.
Gene was a great storyteller and captured many of them in his memoir, The Gene Wickersham Story. He enjoyed playing the guitar and socializing with others. Gene was a member of VFW Post 8530 and American Legion Ralph Leui Post 135. Gene’s best friend and lifelong hero was his father and his children were his pride and joy.
Gene is survived by one sister, Nadine Sievers, Rapid City, SD; his 10 children and 18 grandchildren: Karen Wickersham, Brookings, SD; Tim Wickersham (Kelly) and daughter, Rapid City, SD; Jamie Wickersham and son, Box Elder, SD; Sandy Dempsey (Larry) and two sons, Rapid City, SD; Todd Wickersham (Malissa), one son and one daughter, Richlands, NC; Michael Wickersham (Mary), one daughter and one son, Sioux Falls, SD; Scott Wickersham (Abbie), three sons and one daughter, Brandon, SD; James Wickersham (Cori), two daughters, Healdsburg, CA; Ted Wickersham (Anna), two daughters, Fort Collins, CO; Ann LaBeau (Mark), one son and one daughter, Black Hawk, SD. Gene was preceded in death by his parents, Roy and Vesta; one brother, Chiles “Buck” Wickersham; and two sisters, Marjorie (Dale) Lane and Jackie (Ron) Jarrett
More details will be announced regarding a memorial service and gathering of Gene’s friends and family in Gettysburg on Memorial Weekend. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations may be made to VFW Post 8530, PO Box 15, Gettysburg, SD 57442.