As all true travelers know, sometimes a journey begins in an armchair; often, the distance is merely a trip back in time. If you have visited Newton Fork Ranch, you may already be familiar with our matriarch, Arleen Lippman. Her memory has held fast among the old timers in Hill City. Whether perched on top of a Harley, having High Tea at the Ritz in London, hopping a train to Paris, tending the till at A&H Grocery, or being a front-of-the-pews church-goer, Arleen, in addition to her pioneer spirit, was a colorful character.
Rarely seen without a hat, donning different ones from her 100+ collection, she was a hardworking businesswoman and an indefatigable booster of Hill City. She did have her strong opinions though; case-in-point, she harbored a carefully crafted disregard for the stop sign at the corner of Main Street and Deerfield Road. Feeling that it should never have been installed, this diminutive woman would peer through the steering wheel of “Old Blue” and habitually roll right through it, as locals will attest.
Arleen, along with her husband Harold, moved to Newton Fork Ranch in the early 40s and operated a small business on Main Street, appropriately named A&H Grocery. Harold was the butcher and Arleen tended the till. Open from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, seven days a week, the store was an integral part of the community. It was well-known that when times were tough, she allowed customers to “run a tab.” Every night before closing, this tireless woman would sprinkle sawdust on the old wood floors and then sweep the remains into a used coffee can. That’s what people had to do when even the sidewalks on Main Street were made of wood.
Their home, which was a small ranch house that can be seen as one enters Newton Fork Ranch, was built in 1914 before electricity or modern conveniences came to the Hills. Those who knew Arleen also knew that she steadfastly refused to replace the cistern pump, the outhouse (where she was rumored to have hidden a fur coat from Harold), or the old wood burning cook stove which all remain to this day in the recently restored home. She said for the first 34 years there she “pumped every ounce of water and carried out every ounce of water and heated every ounce of water” without feeling any hardship.
After Harold passed away in 1966, Arleen continued to run A&H Grocery until the 1980s. She was a force of nature, loving social activities and belonging to just about every organization and club including the Hill City Fife and Drum Corp. She also served as South Dakota State Regent for the Harney Peak Chapter of the DAR. In addition, being one of the early members of the Chamber of Commerce, she was instrumental in bringing the 1880 Train to town. It was she who wrote a letter to William B. Heckman, suggesting Hill City as a site for his tourist train idea.
In 1996, this grande dame, this larger-than life 4’10” spirit of the Hills passed away at age 91 and, as many will confirm, she is gone in spirit but not in memory.