Willmar Notebook: Pig valve has rancher on comeback trail

Bill Taunton had quite a day at the Willmar High School Homecoming -- ER in the morning, HOF in the afternoon. "Every day is better," he told me when reached him by phone this week at his 4,000-acre Vine Valley Ranch south of Huron, S.D. The form...

Bill Taunton had quite a day at the Willmar High School Homecoming - ER in the morning, HOF in the afternoon.

“Every day is better,” he told me when reached him by phone this week at his 4,000-acre Vine Valley Ranch south of Huron, S.D.

The former Willmar grocer was inducted into the Cardinal Pride Hall of Fame on Sept. 26, at a banquet in the American Legion Hall.

Peter, one of his seven children at the ceremony, helped his dad to the lectern following the lively introduction by Mel Lewis, a good friend and Willmar College coach and athletic director in the 1970s.

That morning as Bill was preparing to go on the radio with fellow inductees Dawn Severtson Teetzel and Mike Hanson, he bailed out.


“I was feeling dizzy, light-headed,” he said. He thought it best to go to the emergency room at Rice Hospital.

With Peter’s help he moved slowly from his table to the podium. One wondered at the moment if he should even be here.

But when he spoke into the microphone, there was that wonderful non-Minnesotan baritone, perhaps the most distinctively familiar voice in these parts.

He was coming off heart surgery Sept. 16.

“I had a bad valve and the heart was not pumping the blood out,” he said. “They came in from the side instead of opening up the chest. It’s a new procedure just approved in August. The surgery was at the new Heart Hospital that’s part of Sanford Medical in Sioux Falls.”

The valve was beyond repair. The surgeons substituted a valve from a pig.

“I haven’t once gone ‘oink-oink,’ so far,” he joked.

The HOF induction came 12 days later.


It’s been more than 30 years since he sold Tom and Bill’s Red Owl in the Skylark Mall.

Countless teenagers, many of them athletes but also troubled and challenged youth, learned to punch a clock, bag groceries and stock shelves for a steady paycheck.

His matchless delivery enlivened KWLM Radio on Saturday mornings Coaches’ Corner with Dave Dorsey. He was a P.A. announcer at Warriors football games. “Today’s official attendance is 1,782…. Thank you for coming,” and the 300 fans would smile at his understated humor.

“I thought in two weeks I’d be back to normal,” he said.  Not so. He goes to physical therapy three days a week.

At age 83, he insists that he will return to a full schedule of work on the ranch along the James River, or the “Jim River” as he and the natives call it.

The spread raises corn, beans, melons, pumpkins, squash, cattle and pheasants. There are 300 acres, supplemented with food plots, dedicated to hunting deer and raising game birds. Friends and business associates come from a dozen states, Florida to Utah, plus his adopted home town. They stay in the 10,000 square-foot house with six bathrooms, “built like a pole barn,” during the 10-week pheasant season.

Willmar’s Legion Post 167 was an appropriate setting for Taunton’s induction. His efforts brought American Legion State Baseball Tournaments to Willmar in 1976, ’79 and ’83. He umpired at regional and national Legion championships. He also did Big Ten Conference baseball games.

When something was needed to get done in the community, you wanted Taunton on your side. He was, still is, charming, sincere, smart and persuasive.


“Life was beautiful at Tom and Bill’s,” he said. “Willmar was quite a place to live. I will always cherish that time as long as I live. I didn’t realize how good I had it.”

When his wife Carol died, Bill returned full-time to the farm life he lived growing up in the red-clay hills of central Alabama. It was also a return to the long Dakota vistas he first knew as an airman at an Air Force radar installation in eastern North Dakota.

His induction as a community member into the local HOF was a big deal to the family. In his children’s wake came “17 to 19” grandchildren to the banquet.

“I didn’t go to Willmar High School or work there so I never expected this,” he said. “I am very honored.”


Dawn Severtson Teetzel (WHS ’95) didn’t have such an easy road to the banquet either. The Teetzels drove 1,200 miles straight through from Florida. Dawn was introduced by her father Bill Severtson. He noted that his daughter, counting summer leagues and college at Augustana, played in over 500 fast-pitch softball games.

Wendy Nelsen of rural Svea won the 60-64 age group last Saturday at the Whistlestop Marathon held in Ashland, Wis. She qualified for the Boston Marathon with a time of 4:07. It was her fifth marathon.

Jerry Popp has coached cross country for 40 years but had never seen a first-place tie until Nadir Yusuf of Willmar and Aaron Runge of Alexandria dead-locked at the Central Lakes Conference meet in St. Cloud Tuesday. Running chips locked both in at 15:52.40. The Willmar girls swept all three races. Besides the varsity’s third straight CLC title, Lydia Engle in second led five Cards in the top seven in the junior-high race while first-place Courtney Hanson paced four teammates in the top nine to win the JV title. Hudeife Mire in sixth led the boys junior high team to second while Ahmed Awale in ninth led the JV boys to fourth. The varsity boys finished fourth after placing first or second at the CLC meet each year 2004-2013. The Section 8AA meet is Thursday at Arrowwood Resort in Alexandria.


Playing in each of the first seven games for the Peoria Javelinas, rightfielder Jordan Smith of Willmar is hitting .241 with a home run. Hunter Dozier, also an ex-Stinger, is batting .179 with a homer and five RBI in seven games.

Ex-Cardinal tennis player Bryan Borgos is the head coach of the Breck Mustangs volleyball team of Golden Valley. He formerly was an assistant coach at both New London-Spicer and Willmar.

Willmar native Paul Bates and the St. Cloud Tech Tigers girls tennis team has done it again. They won Section 8AA and qualified individuals in singles slots plus a doubles championship to advance to State.

Cardinal hockey captain in 2006 Griffin Leitch recently passed his bar exam and has returned to his hometown to practice law.

The Warriors football team (1-6) wraps up the season today at Brainerd vs. Central Lake (7-0). The Warriors have a solid team both on offense and defense but missed the playoffs after forfeiting three wins due to an oversight in paperwork submitted to the NJCAA. Chris Tidwell (52 receptions) and Eddie Collins (24 catches) are as fine a pair of receivers Ridgewater has had in a long time.

The Cardinals defense has had a hard time containing opposing quarterbacks: Sartell’s Brandon Snoberger passed for 192 yards and three TDs, Alexandria sophomore Jaren Roste didn’t put up big numbers but made big plays, Rocori’s Alex Budde totaled 318 yards of offense and St. Cloud Apollo’s Ben Alvord 311. On Wednesday, Tech sophomore Chris Backes piled up 302 total yards while running for three TDs.

Willmar (3-5) plays at the 7-1 Rogers Royals on Tuesday. The Royals lost 22-21 to St. Michael-Albertville (7-1) on Wednesday earning the Knights top seed for the 6AAAAA football playoffs. The Royals average 44 points a game and have held six opponents to 12 points or less.





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