Some retirees take up golf or fishing or crafts. John and Grace Mickelson, however, discovered a love for auctions and in the process amassed thousands of rare books and unusual collectibles, some of which will be auctioned Monday.
The Mickelsons were longtime Rapid City residents who spent more than 30 years attending auctions. John died in 2004. After Grace died in November, her daughters kept their favorite items and decided to put much of their parents’ massive collection up for sale.
“My mom’s house was like walking into a museum. She had tons of stuff displayed, and it was amazing. It was like enough was never enough,” said Becky Shaal of St. Louis, the Mickelsons’ youngest daughter. “This isn’t even everything they had. My dad had quite a bit of Native American relics."
Shaal said her parents weren’t collectors before they retired. When they started going to auctions, they were hooked. The items in Monday’s auction run the gamut from rare first-edition books to antique hat pins to a whimsical jar of toys from boxes of Cracker Jacks.
Grace had parted with her husband’s collection of Native American items before she died at age 92, Shaal said. Grace still possessed a trove so vast that auctioneer Martin Jurisch said the items are being sold in lots of about 300 in separate auctions. Monday’s auction is the third. Jurisch expects one or two more.
Online bidding for the items is open now; bidding will begin to close at 4 p.m. Monday. All auction items will be available for inspection from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and from noon to 2 p.m. Monday at the Martin Jurisch & Associates online auction showroom, 1641 Deadwood Ave., Suite B, in Rapid City. For more information, go to martinjurisch.com.
Jurisch knew the Mickelsons and sold the couple Mount Rushmore memorabilia and items they bought at a Joe Foss auction in 1993, he said.
“They’re an extremely nice family. I knew John and Grace since 1977. I started selling to them back then,” Jurisch said. “It’s been interesting to go through their collection. You can tell they really liked anything from the Civil War up to the 1910s about what was happening in that period of time and especially around here.”
John and Grace both loved books and assembled a collection Jurisch describes as “impressive and high quality.” Especially noteworthy is “Rawhide Rawlins Rides Again,” a collection of stories written and illustrated by Charles Russell. The non-copyrighted book from 1948 was one of a limited edition of 300, Jurisch said.
“It’s an abnormally large collection. These are extremely high-quality and predominantly all first editions,” Jurisch said. “There’s some very nice county books in this auction and people around this area really like those.”
Shaal said her parents’ passion for collecting likely started with books.
“My mom made it her mission to get every book in the Jennewein bibliography. (They liked) South Dakota history. They lived there a long time, and my mom’s mission was to get a copy of every one of those books — or two or three of them,” she said.
Other distinctive items of note include Grace’s collections of hundreds of half dolls used for making dresser ornaments and pin cushions and 275 china and pottery hat pin holders.
“She’s got every known kind of hat pin. There’s roughly 1,000 pins in the entire collection. That’s amazing,” Jurisch said.
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Monday’s auction also has historical photographs of Camp Harney, and Black Hills Polaroids in albums that are rare, Jurisch said.
The couple had a collection of vintage postcards, too. Grace took pleasure in sending photos of them to the Rapid City Journal, where many were featured on the Black Hills Journal page, Shaal said.
“Mom got the biggest kick out of that. She loved getting her postcard in the Rapid City Journal and she got quite a few in there, and they’re probably up for auction,” Shaal said.
The Mickelsons spent much of their lives in South Dakota, specifically Rapid City, and both had a passion for state and western history. They also shared interests in education, politics and civic involvement.
John was a veteran who earned the Bronze Star while serving in the U.S. Army during World War II. He earned his bachelor's and master's degrees and a doctor of philosophy degree. He started his career as an assistant geology professor at Washington State University. He worked as a geologist for Sohio Petroleum Company in Montana and Sunray DX Oil Corporation in Oklahoma before the family moved to Rapid City in 1961.
John worked as a professor of geology and geological engineering at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, and served as head of the department from 1968 to 1978. Shaal said her father took a six-month sabbatical to work as a speechwriter in Washington, D.C., for Karl Mundt, who served in Congress as a senator and a representative for South Dakota.
“I don’t think he ever harbored the idea of running for office, but (my parents) were both involved in politics,” Shaal said.
Grace taught mathematics at Central High School and became active in local and state politics. She served as president of the Rapid City Education Association and in 1972 was the first woman to serve as full-time president of the South Dakota Education Association.
In 1972, Grace was appointed to the South Dakota senate, then was elected for two more terms. She was only the second woman in South Dakota history to be elected to the senate. From 1978 to 1981, she served as Deputy Principal Regional Official and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Health and Human Services — a position to which she was appointed by President Jimmy Carter.
While serving in the South Dakota senate, Grace earned a master's degree in 1972, and a doctorate in 1979. She returned to teaching mathematics in 1981 at Douglas High School, where she stayed and served as the mathematics department chair until retiring in 1991.
Grace’s political service continued locally. She was elected to the Rapid City Council in 1995 and served two years. She served on advisory, finance and school funding and drinking water councils and committees for six different Rapid City mayors.
Grace also was a legislative Chairman for Business and Professional Women and for the American Association of University Women and throughout her life was active in organizations that supported her passions for education, history and advocacy, including the National Education Association, Black Hills and South Dakota Retired Teachers, the South Dakota Historical Society, the National Organization for Women, Habitat for Humanity, and the International Toastmistress Club.
Shaal said she and her sisters, Judy Mickelson of Missouri and Barbara Mickelson of California, are content to let many of their parents’ belongs go to other collectors. The women are downsizing, Shaal said, instead of following in their parents’ footsteps and becoming avid collectors.