VAN DEREN FAMILY HISTORY - WRITTEN.
Earl Van Deren built a cattle ranch near Sedona, AZ by capturing the wild cattle that roamed the area. He met Leah Seip in 1926 when she passed through Sedona with her family on their way to California. Earl and Leah were married in the Spring of 1933, and their son, Walter John Van Deren, was born in the Summer of 1934 in Flagstaff. After Walter graduated in June of 1957 with a degree in Animal Science from the University of Arizona at Tucson, and completed his Army ROTC service at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the Van Deren Family started searching the western states for a new ranch.
Late in the summer of 1958, Earl, Leah and Walter ended their six week long search for a ranch when Camilla Gage gave them a tour of the Albers Ranch in her lavender Mercury. The ranch met their requirements of being in one block, eliminating the moving of cattle between winter and summer ranges, and had no Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management grazing permits. They bought the ranch from Richard Maw, and in the fall of 1958 moved from Sedona to Dillon.
The Albers Ranch is 10 miles north of Dillon on the west side of the Beaverhead River. The ranch has been known for quite awhile as the Open A Ranch, after the Open A ( /\ ) cattle brand. The ranch also has two other brands registered; the K Bar L ( K-L ), a horse brand, and the L Open A ( _/\ ), a cattle and horse brand acquired from Bill Jones.
In the summer of 1959, Walter received a letter from Patricia Amelia Danils of Billings. Pat was born and raised in Billings, and upon graduation from high school, worked as a telephone operator for AT&T. The couple wrote back and forth for a year before Walter went to Billings to meet Pat. Walter and Pat were engaged in April of 1961 and were married November 1961 in Billings.
Their two sons, Robert Earl, and John Lee, were both born at Barrett Memorial Hospital. Leah enjoyed sewing, and when her grandsons arrived, she crocheted their baby booties and sewed their baby clothes.
In the beginning, the Van Derens sold hay and pasture, saving money until they could afford to start a cattle herd. In the summer of 1959, they pastured cattle for Norman Downing, and later that fall, bought the cattle from Norman, starting their commercial Angus cattle herd. Walter and Earl continued to build the herd to 500 head of cows by purchasing older cows and breeding them to black Angus bulls.
Earl and Walter spent much time working in the fields, fencing, clearing brush, calving, riding, brushing meadows, building ditches and dikes to improve the flood irrigation system, and haying.
Leah was an excellent cook, and would cook for the large hay crews and can vegetables from Earl's ample garden. In the Autumn of 1973, Leah died after fighting cancer and was buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, Dillon, MT.
Earl married Jennie Lee Roberts of Sedona, AZ in the early Winter of 1975 and retired to their new home in the Village of Oak Creek, AZ the fall of 1977. Earl died at his home in the Fall of 1993 and was buried at the Mountain View Cemetery in Dillon.
After Earl's retirement in 1977, the cattle were sold and Walter and Pat's family returned to supplying hay and winter pasture for area ranchers. Since then, the Open A Ranch has served as the winter place for Bill and Eileen Jones, Erb and Hirschy and the Arrow Ranch of Wisdom.
Robert graduated from Beaverhead County High School in 1981, and then graduated from MSU in 1985 with a degree in Business Finance. Robert enjoys the variety, flexibility and challenges that the ranch offers. His degree has been useful in the computerization of the ranch bookkeeping system, in business planning, the analysis of future projects and in various leadership positions in the Farm Bureau.
John Van Deren graduated from BCHS in 1983. Wanting to pursue a career in automotive design he left Dillon to study at the General Motors Institute in Detroit, Michigan, graduating in May 1990 with a degree in Automotive Engineering. In school John started working at American Motors, and due to a merger, transferred to Chrysler in Detroit. John married Shannon Werner on October 1995 in Detroit, Michigan. John and Shannon are currently in Graz, Austria, where John will work for two and a half years as an engineer at a Chrysler assembly plant until the summer of 1999, when they are expected to return to the Detroit area.
Walter and Robert worked in the 1980's at updating the equipment by purchasing older used equipment that was large enough to enable the operation of the ranch by themselves. The haying was contracted out to Robert and Adele Sawyer, until their retirement in January of 1997.
During the past 40 years, the Van Deren Family's efforts to improve the flood irrigation system, fertilization of the hay meadows, and the installation of sprinklers on 300 acres of dry bench ground in 1973, have increased the ranch's ability to run cattle by 4-5 times 1958 levels.
The future is expected to hold as many changes as the past. The introduction of new grass varieties and continuing irrigation system improvements are expected to further increase hay and winter pasture production. Walter, Pat and Robert Van Deren plan on diversifying the ranching operation with the production of recreational opportunities on the ranch. Open A Ranch's beauty and seclusion, Albers Spring Creek and abundant wildlife habitat coupled with the construction of fish ponds, will help to ensure a viable, family business into the twenty-first century.