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John Edward Rife

John Edward Rife, 88, of Sebeka, died Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2009 at Tri-County Hospital in Wadena.

He was born Aug. 4, 1920 to Walter and Susie (Hurst) Rife in Broadland, Ill. He attended school in Decatur, Ill.

At an early age he ventured to Chicago. His was first employed selling Good Humor ice cream. Later he worked for Chicago Roto Print and also had various sales related jobs.

He married Dorothy Ostvig in Chicago and they had three children. He moved his family to New York City. He moved back to the Midwest in the early 1940s and was employed at Northern Pump (a defense factory) in Minneapolis.

He married Helen Meckola on Nov. 14, 1942 in Meadow Township. They had five children. They moved to Duluth, where he was a welder at a defense plant. Later he was transferred to another defense plant in Spanish Fork, Utah.

He moved back to Chicago where he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served his country with the Seabees in the South Pacific from 1943 until his honorable discharge in 1945. For a time, he was loaned to the Air Force and trained as a photographer. He was flown into battle sites before and after the battle to document the event.

He returned to the home and 40 acres his wife had purchased in Meadow Township during his deployment.

In 1948 a business partnership with Western Novelty took the Rife family to Great Falls, Mont., where they lived until his health forced them to return to Sebeka.

He was offered Veterans Vocational Training for agriculture. He and his wife used this training to grow their small farm into a large and profitable dairy business. In addition to farming he sold insurance for Missouri Farmers Association (MFA). His office in Sebeka was where city hall is now located.

He bought the Chevrolet Dealership in 1966. It is now operated by his son, Jim. In 1976 they rebuilt the dealership in the current location and converted the old garage into Rife's Stop-N-Shop.

He started the Wadena Soil and Water Conservation District and through his efforts numerous projects were completed. In 1963 he was inspired by John F. Kennedy's speech and subsequently was appointed by the governor of Minnesota to establish and complete the first of 10 projects in the United States, The Crow Wing River Canoe Trail. He was the founding father of the Resource Conservation and Development Council (RC&D). He was asked in 1971 to serve on a USDA National RC&D Program review team consisting of only 14 people in the nation because of his experience and expertise and rapport with USDA.

He was listed in the 1973 edition of the "Who's Who in the Upper Midwest." He was named Minnesota's Outstanding Conservationist, in December 1998, and appeared on the front cover and in an article of the January 1999 issue of "The Minnesota Farmer."

He received the Outstanding Conservationist Award by the International Soil and Water Conservation Society in Biloxi, Miss., in 1999. He received the "Visionary Leader Award" in July 2004 from the WesMin RC&D at the 40th anniversary celebration in Wadena.

He was inducted into the National Hall of Fame in Washington, D.C. in 2008. Because of his son Tim's attendance, he became involved in the Developmental Achievement Center (DAC). He was instrumental in raising funds for the new building that was dedicated on May 17, 2002.

He was a member of Zion Lutheran Church in North Germany Township, a member of the Sebeka American Legion Post 456, and a founding member of the Sebeka Lions Club.

He is survived by his wife, Helen; three daughters: Karen Sue (Errol) Keith, of Loudon, Tenn., Diane Notch, of West Des Moines, Iowa, and Cherie (Thomas) Rife Smylie, of Edgewood, N.M.; four sons: Allan (Joyce) Rife, of Foley, John Jr. (Mildred), of Anoka, Tom, of Mounds View, and Jim, of Sebeka; 18 grandchildren; 15 great grandchildren; a sister, Cathleen Blankenburg, of Sullivan, Ill.; and numerous nieces, nephews and cousins.

He was preceded in death by a son, Timothy, in 1998; two sisters: Marie Mitchell and Gladys Jenkins; and a grandson, Blaine Rife.

Casket bearers and honorary casket bearers: His grandchildren and great-grandchildren: Dawn Marie Minton, Allan Jr., Cody, Wayne, Jason, Jana, Troy, Bryan, David, Austin, Ajay, Autumn, Alec and Ava Lee Rife, Shawn Vazquez, Michelle Brufoldt, Jamie Smylie, Ashley Maijala, Cathryn, Maria and Sarah Vazquez, DeLayna, Natalie, Joseph, Ashton, Parker and Cooper Rife, Dominic and Elijah Maijala, Noah, Cory, Joel and Jacquelin Minton.

Funeral service: Friday, Jan. 30, 2009 at Grace Lutheran Church in Sebeka, with Rev. Jim Gorentz officiating. Military honors were provided by the American Legion Post 456 of Sebeka.