A couple of weeks ago I joined a room full of people with ties to Forestburg SD and Sanborn County to remember the life of Roland “Ike” Petesch. Ike died in December 2015 at the age of 91. This gathering was a chance for Ike’s family and those whose lives he had affected to come from near and far to share stories and laughs. There were some tears, too, but they were the kind of tears that were less about grief and more about the profoundly personal and positive influence Ike had been in their lives.,
Ike was a fine athlete in baseball and basketball, and accepted an athletic scholarship to Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell. He left school after a few weeks because he missed Forestburg, 20 miles away. Ike went into business opening Ike’s Pool Hall, and for the next 26 years was open early and quite late 7 days a week. The first Pool Hall was, in a word, “primitive”and eventually burned down under mysterious circumstances. Some said the lady next door lit the fire, tired of the noise and the results of a lack of indoor plumbing for customers, but no one really knows for sure. Ike rebuilt on a more “refined” spot on Main Street and lived in a house behind the pool hall.
Ike was much more than a pool hall proprietor. He and his place were the center of the community. You could buy off and on sale alcohol, milk, bread, his famous hamburgers (made one at a time on a tiny griddle) and other treats. In a town with no bank, Ike served as “banker”, cashing paychecks, and personal checks which at times the writer would ask Ike not to deposit for a week or two. Ike loaned money to who knows how many people. There were kids with a less than ideal home life who were welcome to hang out with Ike, maybe play a little catch outside. In a town without a retail shop Ike’s was where you could buy a watch, a shotgun or rifle or any other number of hard goods which Ike found at a good price in a catalog. He was a Pony League amateur baseball player and manager, and was enshrined in the South Dakota Baseball Hall of Fame in 1991. He was the town psychologist who listened to everyone’s problems. He rented movies and projected them onto the side of his barn/garage behind the pool hall for kids and adults, no charge. He even offered dating advice and “sex education” to more than one local lad in a time and place where such information was not always readily available. He was the official unofficial “Mayor” of Forestburg, and a man who spent his entire life in service to his home town. And during the last few years he was living at home he was my “weekend” next door neighbor. He was also a “shirt tail” relative, as Ike and my Grandpa Clarence were first cousins.
While i was born in Forestburg, I didn’t grow up there, so I’m WAY down the list of those he influenced. However, we visited often. I remember every time we visited as kids we’d drop in at Ike’s with my grandmother and he’d always have a Three Musketeers candy bar and Nesbitt’s orange pop ready for us. Of course it was on the house. Among the storytellers at the memorial was my friend Curt Talley, who described Ike as “a pillar of the community”, which Ike most certainly was. There are those who will say there’s an Ike in every small town. I’d counter that every small town WISHES they had a pillar of the community like Roland “Ike” Petesch, and a few are lucky enough to have one.