By Jean Schurman
The Bitterroot Stockgrowers Association held its annual banquet Saturday at the Family Center in Stevensville. The banquet capped off a day filled with seminars and speakers designed to aid and assist farmers and ranchers as well as 4-Hers and FFA members.
Each year, the Stockgrowers honors a family or person that has been involved in agriculture in the Bitterroot Valley. This year, Babe Ruffatto was that person. She is the matriarch of Ruffatto Land and Livestock, a 4,000 plus acre ranch located at the base of the Bitterroots between Bass Creek and Brooks Creek, west of Stevensville.
Loretta ‘Babe’ Feronato Ruffatto was born on the ranch in 1925. Her parents were Mario and Mary Feronato. Feronato came to the United States from Italy. He was one of the many thousands of immigrants who came through Ellis Island. He eventually landed in Colorado where he dug ditches and worked on farms in the area. He met his wife Mary, there. The American Sugar Company was offering to pay the way to the Bitterroot for people who would grow sugar beets for the company. He and his wife and baby made the trip to the valley and wound up on a place just south of Casey’s Store where they farmed sugar beets. Feronato eventually went to work for George Brooks who was a banker that had foreclosed on the ranch on Bass Creek. Feronato wound up buying the place.
Babe was the fifth of five girls. Although her father wanted a boy, she became a tomboy and was pretty good help around the place – driving teams, milking cows and helping out around the ranch. One day, a young fellow from Brockton, Montana, came to work at the ranch. George Ruffatto eventually asked Babe to marry him and the couple were married on October 10, 1947 at St. Mary’s Mission. The couple moved just down the road where he continued to work for Feronato while Babe raised kids, pigs, milked cows and worked beside her husband whenever needed.
The couple and their family worked hard to make the ranch a thriving business, using innovative cross breeding practices on their cow herd. They were one of the first ranches in the valley to use the Charolais cattle as the basis for their cross breeding program with proven results. From branding time to feeding time in the winter, Babe’s table was the meeting place at noon for food and planning for George and their sons, Tom and Cliff. George passed away in 2005 but Babe continues to be at the center of life on the ranch.
The legacy continues with her sons working on the ranch. Tom, and Cliff and his wife Chris, along with Cliff’s son, Zac, all live on the ranch and are all involved in running the ranch on Bass Creek. They meet with her every day over a lunch that she prepares. Daughter Carol and her husband, Lennie Hinman, live in Darby.