Women in ag, Shelly Ritthaler writes from and ranches in northeast Wyoming
Upton – Shelly Ritthaler and her husband Reuben are the third generation of Ritthalers to ranch southwest of Upton. In addition to raising granddaughter Shayna and helping with ranch work, Shelly is also an accomplished author with multiple books published in her name.
“I always feel like I have three different worlds going. There’s the first-grade school world with Shayna, the ag world, and the writing world that I put on hold. When we got Shayna as a baby it didn’t take long to realize I couldn’t do it all at once, and that I could do two things poorly or one thing well, so I put the writing away.
“It never bothered me at all until just lately. I think part of it is that I’m reading so many books to Shayna now, and I think, ‘I can write better than this,’ or that a book is so well written and inspiring, or another book is such a fun topic. Now I’m starting to feel like I want to get involved in writing again,” explains Shelly.
A friend asked Shelly to attend an evening class for creative writing years ago. “I said no at first, and she said she thought I would enjoy writing because I love to read. I hesitated, and she finally said she would take me to Taco Johns afterward, and I said okay, and was in it for the tacos,” says Shelly with a laugh of how she first started writing.
“During the first class they asked us to write about a favorite memory. I wrote about my grandmother and baking bread with her. When we were done writing they said we were going to read them out loud. I was thinking, ‘Oh boy, tacos aren’t worth it,’” remembers Shelly.
“Everyone was reading, and I was deathly nervous. So I read mine and didn’t look up or at anyone the entire time. I finish reading my piece, and then I looked up and everyone was just bawling. They said it was so beautiful, and that was the first time I realized the power of the written word and how you can affect people with your writing,” notes Shelly.
She says after that everyone nagged her to keep going with writing. “So I said I would and nothing happened, of course. I said I would try it for a year, and I did, then I was done and threw the last thing in the mail, and it got accepted for publication in Farm Wife News magazine.”
“Then I thought, ‘I can do this,’ and I didn’t have anything published for several more years. Then I started publishing locally and began building nationally,” she says of how she built her career.
“I got involved in the History of Weston County book project. It was a nice first project because I knew it would be published. When it was all done there were a lot of people involved, and it was a huge project, and it made me want a book of my own.
“At the time I was also writing a little column, or essay, for a magazine, and I had written enough of those by then that I put them together into a book called The Ginger Jar. It won the National Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for short fiction, and people were really supportive and nice about how it made them laugh and how much they enjoyed the stories,” notes Shelly.
“Following The Ginger Jar I had some children’s books accepted by Avon Books of New York, and I wrote five books with them. I followed those with another history project,” she explains of her other writing projects.
“I really enjoyed it. I think I have three copies of the children’s books left. They sold out, and the publisher is gone, too. So, when I talk about going back into writing, I would have to start all over. Everything is very different today and the publishing world has changed a lot. But I’ll get on top of it, and I think it’s an exciting world and a fun time to get back in, with e-publishing and the Internet,” says Shelly.
Of ranching, Shelly says it’s what she’s always wanted to do with her life. “What was hardest for me in learning to live the agricultural way of life is that you’re always living on a promise that might be kept tomorrow. It’s a hard life, with broken promises and grasshoppers that cover buildings, and summers without a drop of rain. But, even with all that stuff, I love the deep sense of satisfaction in the fall when all the hay’s in and you know you have plenty of feed for the winter. The cows are where they need to be, and you know they will be fed well, and winter can bring it’s worst and we’ll be just fine,” notes Shelly of one of her favorite aspects of ranching.
“We’re the third generation to be on this ranch, and we’re really proud of the fact that this place has never been inherited. One generation has always purchased it from the previous. Now we have Shayna, and she loves the ranch and will spend hours riding in the baler or swather with Reuben. She’s in first grade, and when Reuben gets up to do a project she comes firing out of her bedroom dressed and asking Grandpa where they’re going. That’s a lot of fun.
“You learn to count your blessings, not your sorrows, and that’s the attitude that I believe makes it work. That, and changing with what need to be accomplished, and getting was needs to be done, done,” says Shelly of her life in Wyoming agriculture.
Heather Hamilton is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.