With the Old Setters’ Day theme of “Saluting the Farmers and Ranchers of Marion County,” it seemed appropriate that Jackie Hett and her family of Marion would represent them.
“I feel honored to be the grand marshal,” she said.
She and her late husband, Walt, were lifelong farmers and ranchers, and succeeding generations continue the operation.
Along with other riders, Hett is used to bringing up the rear of the Old Settlers’ Day parade on her horse, Babe. This year, however, will be different in one respect. She, as grand marshal, will lead the parade, on horseback as usual, followed by three younger generations of her family.
Hett is a familiar figure to many in the community.
She volunteers at Marion Senior Center, working Mondays and filling in whenever needed. She also delivers meals-on-wheels. She likes to play Texas Hold’em poker with friends and regularly participates in water aerobics at the aquatic center.
She is a member of Aulne United Methodist Church, where she was treasurer for 50 years.
She said she loved to cook on the farm, and cooking and baking are still her favorite activities. She bakes cinnamon rolls and cookies to give away to family and friends.
Hett figures she has ridden her horse in the parade for at least 50 years. She said she doesn’t ride anymore and thought last year might be her last time in the parade.
“My legs don’t work very well,” she said. “It’s a challenge getting on, but Hett’s daughter Melanie said, ‘Oh, no, Mom, we’ll help you get on.”
Horses have been a big part of Hett’s life. Her first horse, Fatima, was a wedding present from Walt. They were married in 1946. Their three daughters — Melanie, Melissa, and Malinda — all learned to ride on Fatima.
She said she was raised a city girl, but she liked to go out to the farm and drive a team of horses. After she married Walt, she drove a tractor that pulled a binder for making bundles of grain.
They moved to a ranch southeast of Marion in 1960, where their children grew up.
They once owned 12 horses that the children and grandchildren and their friends would ride.
The saddest day of Hett’s life was when Walt died instantly in October 1998 from a heart attack. They were working cattle together when he collapsed. They were five miles from Florence and there were no cell phones yet. Somehow, she managed to clear the calves out of the pen, unload a hay bale from the truck, and go to Florence for help.
Brokenhearted from the loss of her husband of 52 years, Hett, nevertheless, carried on with the help of her son, Steve. She checked and fed cattle, helped with calving, and raked hay.
Six years ago, her grandson, Jeff Ensey, joined the operation to help manage the 200-head cowherd.
Hett moved to Marion three years ago, and her daughter Melanie took over the ranch.
Hett, now 87, said she visits the ranch often. Just last week she went out to watch them gather calves to sell.
“I expected to stay in the pickup, but I ended up riding a four-wheeler,” she said. “It felt great!”
She looks forward to seeing many relatives and friends on Old Settlers’ Day. With her and Babe at the head of the parade, they will be sure to see her.