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Orphan Train Riders to Iowa  Orphan Train Riders

~ Lyon County ~

Argus Leader
Sioux Falls, Iowa
25 May 1981

Edward Risberg

Solitary funeral awaits in Rock Rapids

(Madonna Harms made a note that this is the only tombstone she knows of that gives acknowledgement of an OT rider on it.)

Sixty-two years ago young Edward Risberg, 14, homeless and frightened, stood with his sister among a group of orphans on an unfamiliar stage in a Rock Rapids, Iowa, church.

Potential fathers and mothers sifted through the children, looking them over and assessing their strengths and weaknesses, then picked one for their own.

On Monday, Risberg, 76, will be buried in a simple ceremony next to his sister in the Riverside Cemetery in Rock Rapids. Few, if any, mourners are expected for the funeral of Risberg, who began his life in an orphanage, lived much of it guarding the secrecy of his past and died of cancer Saturday, a ward of the county.

Few people in or near Rock Rapids knew Risberg, but his sister, Mary, lived with the Hans Raveling family, of rural Rock Rapids, for almost 50 years, until her death in 1967.

Mrs. Marie Ladd of nearby Inwood, who is helping arrange Risberg's funeral, grew up with Mary Risberg, but hadn't seen Edward since his sister's funeral 13 years ago.

"The reason they came to me to help with the funeral was because I knew his sister," Mrs. Ladd said.
"They thought I knew a little about Edward," she said. "But I know so very little, it's sad." Risberg and his sister were born in New York shortly after the turn of the century. Their father was a Swedish seaman.

It was a time when thousands of homeless youngsters roamed the streets of America's largest cities during the growing pains of the industrial revolution. The youngsters begged, stole, lived in orphanages or worked in factories, many times under dirty and unsafe conditions for low pay.

Edward and Mary lived in the Seaman's Orphanage in New York until about 1918, when they came west to Rock Rapids. Some say they came on an orphan train, a collection of big-city homeless children sent to the burgeoning West, where families were willing to take them in.

"She (Mary) never used to talk much about it, but I do know she told me they came to the Methodist Church in Rock Rapids and were put up on a stage," Marie Ladd said Saturday. "People would come there and look them over and talk to them and then they would pick out the ones they wanted.

"It was sort of a crude way to do it, but I guess it may have been the only way."  Mrs. Ladd said her aunt and uncle chose young Mary Risberg, then 12, to go home with them.  "But no way would Edward be separated from his sister," Mrs. Ladd said. "My aunt and uncle went home and thought about it overnight and they decided they could take Edward, too. They thought he would be able to help with chores on the farm." But Edward didn't like the farm life. At age 14, he left for California -- no one knows for sure where -- and spent much of his life working as a die cutter (someone who molds or shapes metal) in a factory.

He returned to Sioux City several years ago, where he apparently worked as a janitor. He spent the past two years in the Indian Hills Care Center there.  A care center nurse described him as "very shy, someone who would talk to you if you talked to him first."

Both Edward and Mary were very guarded about their beginnings.  "They were very, very reluctant to talk about it," Mrs. Ladd said. "I think it must have been a bad memory -- something very painful for them."

Mary Risberg spent a half century in Rock Rapids with the Revelings. She worked for a time as a bookkeeper.

"His sister was a very, very kind person," said Mrs. Roscoe Pettengil of Rock Rapids, who knew Mary slightly. "She was very concerned about Edward."  Mrs. Ladd said of Mary's relationship with the Revelings: "She was better than any regular daughter could ever be to them. She was wonderful."

Occasionally, she recalled, Edward would come to Rock Rapids to visit his sister. But, "They were like day and night. From what I recall, he wasn't a likeable sort of guy. He was a hard drinker, and that made it tough for Mary."

Graveside services will begin at 11 a.m. Monday at the site preserved for Edward by his sister.  "We're not expecting anyone," said Rich Roste, director of the Jongewaard-Stapp Funeral Home in Rock Rapids. "The only ones who might come might be someone who knew his sister."  Mrs. Ladd has prior trip commitments she said she can't break, and won't be able to attend the services.

Mrs. Pettengil said she has heard that Edward had died some time ago.  "He had a pretty rough time, I guess," she said