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Betty Zolnowsky

Betty Ann Zolnowsky, age 72, of Draper, SD, previously of Madison, away at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls on Thursday, February 4, 2021, after a fierce battle with a relentlessly aggressive cancer.


Mass of Christian Burial will be 2:30 PM on Tuesday, February 9th at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church in Fort Pierre, SD with Father Ron Garry as the Celebrant. Visitation will start at 12:30 PM with a Rosary at 2:15 PM on Tuesday before Mass at the church.  Burial will be in Vivian Cemetery. The funeral will be livestreamed on the funeral chapel Facebook page. It is requested that everyone wears a mask while attending.  Online guest book is available at  Arrangements are entrusted with Rustand-Weiland Funeral Chapel of Madison. An open memorial service will be scheduled at a later date when temperatures warm and Covid-19 restrictions are abated.


Betty Ann Sletto was born on March 16, 1948, in Virginia, MN, the second daughter of Harold Kenneth Sletto and Hilda Katherine Johnson Sletto.  While still an infant her family move from Minnesota to a ranch near Draper in northeast Jones County, SD.  When recalling her childhood she recalls dirt roads made muddy by rain or melting snow, walking home with her sister across the pastures after school on nice spring days, no phones, electricity supplied from large glass batteries charged by a Wind Charger — an implementation that allowed for the use of a waffle iron on breezy spring mornings, being conservative to preserve the water hauled to the home to fill the cistern.  In later life she would sometimes reflect that when it came to conservation, she was “green” before “green” was cool.


Through the sixth grade Betty attended school at the South Star School.  She then attended the Pierre School system, graduating from Riggs High School in 1966.  She attended the University of South Dakota, graduating with degrees in Mathematics and German in 1970.


She attended graduate school at the University of Nebraska and the University of Wyoming.  She blessed David Zolnowsky with her hand in marriage on November 26, 1971, in Vivian, SD.  They moved to Pierre, SD, in June of 1973 and continued to build and nurture a family of four children, 2 sons and 2 daughters.  While the children were young Betty was a dedicated homemaker – her children recall baking cookies, sitting on the garden wall eating rhubarb with sugar, the variety of pets in the basement, story time before bed, and being loved.  She began working at the Board of Regents in 1984.  In 1986 the young family moved to Madison, SD, and, after settling the household, Betty began working for Sioux Valley Energy.  During the 1989-1990 academic year the family temporarily relocated to Laramie, WY, where Betty returned to the University of Wyoming to complete the requirements for and earn a Master’s degree in Statistics.  Upon returning to Madison, she worked for several years as an instructor for Dakota State University.


In 1993, following the death of her father, Betty began splitting her time between her family’s home near Madison and the Sletto family ranch in Jones county where she was thrust into the role of ranch manager, a role she held – but did not always totally cherish — at the time of her death.  During the summer she and the children would put up hay, fix fence, care for the cattle, repair implements, and other necessary chores.  They recall bonding together while performing these duties and credit this with building strong solidarity among siblings.


Betty quickly proved to be a successful ranch manager.  She self-identified as “Haymaker” and implemented a continuous improvement of the ranch cow herd based on selecting sires whose heritable traits included lower birthweights, higher weaning and yearling weights, milk productivity for heifers, and docility.  She occasionally laughingly commented while reviewing the myriad of information in a bull catalog that she had not expected a background in statistics would prove so useful when selecting bulls.  She also embraced selling bred cows before they aged out of production and selecting docile replacement heifers from within the herd.


Betty had interests beyond ranching.  She enjoyed knitting, crocheting, and quilting.  She participated in Bible Study groups.  She encouraged each of her children to master a musical instrument and she played the piano.


Betty’s actions and decisions were guided by values instilled by her parents – frugality, compassion, empathy, and welcoming.  She was once described by one of her friends as an “emotionally secure, well balanced, wholesome person who unerringly did the right thing”.  She shared her father’s ability to see humor in everyday events and storytelling skills.  She enjoyed shared laughter.  From her mother she garnered her cooking skills and her ability to plan.  She valued privacy, but she relished being recognized by the employees and managers of the various agriculture related businesses she patronized.  While daily activities might result in dirty “chore clothes”, she preferred to be a clean and tidy and particularly enjoyed “looking nice” for special and ordinary events.  In conversations with friends and acquaintances, old and new, Betty displayed a charming smile and a willingness to engage in conversation.  She claimed this practice was a discipline she developed to overcome her childhood shyness.


Betty shared her mother’s commitment to education.  While her children were young, she managed the family budget to ensure savings would be available to fund a college education for each.  Betty bolstered her children’s desire to learn while reading to them while they were young, demonstrating an active interest in their elementary and secondary school classes and seeking atypical ways to stimulate utilization of skills learned in class – chief among these were asking the children to solve “word problems” during car trips or at the dinner table, an activity the children complained was not inflicted on their friends by their parents.  Her efforts were rewarded with four college graduations in disciplines leading to successful careers.


Betty was preceded in death by her parents.  She is survived by her sister, Doris Hulce (Doug) of Logan, NM; her husband, David Zolnowsky, of Draper, SD; sons Michael Zolnowsky of Madison, SD, and Jeffrey Zolnowsky (Renae) of Marion, IA; daughters Wendy Caveny (Aaron) of Pierre, SD, and Megan Hamer (Bryan) of Black Hawk, SD, grandchildren Nicholas Zolnowsky, Alexander Zolnowsky (Trisha), Andrew Zolnowsky, Julianna Zolnowsky, Evelynn Caveny, William Caveny, George Hamer, Lucy Hamer, and Heidi Hamer and numerous cousins, nieces and nephews.


Betty was an intelligent, gracious, and caring person.  She found it easy to love, and in return, was easy to love by others.  She will be sorely missed.


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