Medora Chamber of Commerce recently honored Lonnie Tachenko of Dickinson, North Dakota with its Military Veteran Award. The Billings County Pioneer reported the following:
“I’m overwhelmed…” declared Tachenko. “I feel unworthy. Many of you could have done what I did.” Tachenko said he loves his country and thinks fondly of his time in military service. “I enjoyed the Army service. They treated me very well.” He adds with a smile: “I never got in the brig, either!”
Tachenko was born in Billings County 97 years ago to Ukrainian immigrants. The drought of the 1930s made ranching a challenge in the Dakotas, so Lonny’s father set up an additional farming operation in Ohio, sending his three oldest children there to oversee the work.
Tachenko graduated from high school in Ohio but received his teaching certificate from Dickinson State College in 1939. His first teaching assignment was 2.5 miles from the Tachenko homestead outside Belfield, North Dakota. There he taught 10 students, earning $45 per month—but even that paltry paycheck did not materialize until half the year was over, because the county was short of money. The next school year he accepted a salary of $75 per month from the Fallon County (MT) School Board. This brought him to a 14-student country school near Ismay.
Drafted in 1941, Tachenko became a Surgical Technician III and shipped to Greenland, staging area for the European-African-Middle Eastern theater. In the fall of 1944, he entered the active war zone in France going to the Battle of the Bulge. Tachenko prayed that God would direct his path forward. In a dream he saw a prairie valley with a winding creek surrounded by badlands. A beautiful collie dog was running freely.
When he returned from Germany, he married Estelle Lang of Jamestown, North Dakota, whom he had met during a furlough. He became a mortician, graduating at the top of his class. Life was opening up before him, but he still longed for that valley with the beautiful collie running free.
He wrote to his brothers in Billings County, telling them he wanted to come home. While looking for a place to live he discovered his dream ranch—complete with collie dog—and purchased the land for $19 an acre. It was an investment that brought dividends during years of hard work. For the next half century, he raised Hereford cattle on the Lazy X-Bar ranch.
Tachenko is a member of the Grassy Butte Adventist Church. Over the years he has served as Sabbath school teacher, home missionary leader, deacon and elder. He was elected to the North Dakota Conference Board, a position he held for several years.
After his ranch was sold, Lonnie and Estelle retired to the town of Dickinson in 2004. There he helps his neighbors and enjoys fellowship with daughters Lonna and Brenda. He also grows a large garden that produces all kinds of vegetables—including up to 200 squash a season, most of which is donated to Manna House, family and neighbors.
Tachenko browses periodicals like Reminisce, Grit and Country, looking for names of people who would like something to read, buy, sell, or perhaps just want a pen pal. He writes a note, includes a Bible study guide and encourages them to send in the card. He even supplies the stamp. He receives many replies.
Love for people and faith in God have been the hallmark of Lonnie Tachenko’s remarkable life—a foundation of strength in the past and hope for the future.
News writer Jacquie Biloff is communication director for the Dakota Conference.