GILLETTE — Rachel Rasse and Dan Stroup had met once before, but don’t know each other. Not really.
Regardless, they share an indelible and powerful connection.
Rasse was responsible for one of police Cpl. Stroup’s most memorable days of his 19 years in the Gillette Police Department. Stroup was one of the first people Rasse ever met in her life.
They haven’t seen each other in almost 18 years, but their history finally caught up with their present with a serendipity that only a small town can provide.
The rite of passage that is graduation marks the crossing of high school seniors into their adult lives. With that comes a reflexive and unavoidable look back at the 17 or 18 years that came before. The past comes through in the themes of graduation speeches, the selection of class songs and slideshows that begin with baby photos.
“Looking back, you just tell stories,” said Rasse, 17. “You talk about, ‘Oh, remember in fourth grade when we did ‘The Polar Express’ and had hot chocolate or we got the frogs?’ It’s a very sentimental time in life.
“It’s hard to move on to the next chapter because you look through the first part of the book before you turn that chapter.”
Parents and grandparents also play an important role in that backward-looking focus around graduation time. It’s the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Stroup’s own family was no different in that sense. His wife, Tonya, recently posted on her Facebook page two photos of their son, Jake: one from his very first day of school, missing at least one tooth and holding a Spider-Man lunch box, and the other from his last day of school as a high school senior. He was soon to graduate with the Thunder Basin High School Class of 2021.
A busy graduation and wedding season had seen countless pieces of mail coming to Stroup’s home in recent weeks and months. That’s why an invitation in his mailbox at the police station didn’t faze him.
“I go by my mailbox, and I see an envelope that says ‘The Stroup Family,’” he said. “I figured it’s either a wedding invitation or something about my son’s graduation; throw it in my bag, hand it over to my wife.”
He wasn’t even the one who ended up opening the envelope. Tonya took care of that.
Inside was anything but a typical graduation invitation.
It was a trip down memory lane. The envelope also included an article from the June 29, 2003, edition of the Gillette News Record with a note across the top that read: “In case you were wondering why you were getting a grad announcement from an unknown girl …”
It was from Rasse. She wasn’t an unknown to Stroup, but the newspaper story reminded him of something he’d never forgotten — the day they met.
Nearly 18 years ago, Stroup was a relatively new police officer in Gillette and just coming off a long shift. At 6:11 a.m., he was driving home and his radio crackled to life. He wasn’t quite done yet, despite more than 12 hours on the clock.
“I don’t remember the guy I arrested the night before, but I remembered it was a pretty serious felony, and it was pretty impactful,” Stroup said. “As a newer officer, you hit those cases, you put a lot of effort into it, a lot of paperwork and things like that. I was headed home.”
He was at the intersection of 4J and Boxelder roads when the dispatcher asked where he was because they knew his route home, he said.
“They said, ‘There’s someone having a baby, like, two blocks away. You need to get there,’” Stroup remembered. “I went from half asleep to wide awake.”
Barb Rasse was giving birth in her home’s bathroom at 1910 Chestnut Circle.
Her parents, Monte and Nancy Hanson, were there with her and planning to go to the hospital, but Rachel had other plans.
Nancy remembers how quickly things happened that morning.
“(Barb) kind of made a noise,” Nancy said. “She said, ‘Mom, lift up my robe.’ And it was Rachel’s head. The first thing I said was, ‘Call 911!’”
Nancy laughs now recalling the memory.
“She and I were the only ones in the house,” she said. “I was the one who was supposed to be calling.”
Barb’s father, Monte Hanson, had loaded up his other granddaughter, then 2 years old, and went back outside to tend to her.
“As I get downstairs, here comes this cop car into the cul-de-sac,” Monte said. “I mean, he’s moving. He slides to a stop, jumps out, and I say, ‘Upstairs, to the left; you can’t miss it.’”
In a way, though, Stroup had missed it.
He got to the bathroom not to find Barb in the throes of labor, but standing there holding her newborn daughter.
“I just kind of helped out at the end,” Stroup said.
He said he never really thought about what would have happened if he’d actually had to deliver a baby on that day. He hoped his training would have kicked in, and he would have done what needed to be done.
“Fortunately, our emergency services in this town are very rapid to respond, and I doubt I would have been alone long,” Stroup said. “I hadn’t thought much about being relieved or not. I guess upon looking back at it, I’m just grateful that everything worked out and that I was a part of it.”
He remembered how calm Barb was and marvels at it all these years later.
“It was the grandma that was really stressing out, pacing up and down the hallway,” Stroup said.
But that was understandable, seeing as how she’d just helped deliver a baby.
“I didn’t deliver her,” Nancy said, eschewing any credit. “Barb delivered her.”
During this entire event, Barb’s husband, Nick Rasse, was absent. He was in Tennessee going through officer training for the Air National Guard.
Nick said it was a whirlwind of calls and messages coming to him there, and he remembered getting yelled at by a major for being on the phone.
“As soon as she found out my wife was going into labor, she went from this hardcore instructor to mom-mode,” Nick said.
A group effort began to get Nick home as soon as possible. People from his unit cleaned out his locker and packed him a bag, and he was flying out of Knoxville soon after getting the news. He flew into Rapid City, South Dakota, where Monte picked him up and they drove Gillette.
Stroup remembered the fact that Nick had been gone. He’d been doing training around the time his wife was to give birth to Jake, and he felt a connection in that sense. It was just another detail that made the day so memorable.
“We deal with so much stuff you’d like to forget, but you can’t,” Stroup said. “We meet people on some of the worst days of their lives. This was one of the best days.”
The positivity stands out through all of the negativity, all the more noticeable for its contrast to the norm.
“I’ve forgotten a lot of things I’ve done around here, but that’s not one of them,” Stroup said.
Despite the memorable nature of Rachel’s arrival, the details faded over time and names on both sides became something that was glossed over in each side’s respective retellings of the story.
The story, as widely shared and oft-cited as it was in Rasse’s family, didn’t always focus on the name of the police officer who got there first. Though Rasse had been a classmate of Stroup’s son since seventh grade, the name never registered as familiar. Jake had no reason to know either, as Stroup said he didn’t think his son had ever heard the story.
Barb suggested to her daughter that they send an invitation “to the police officer who delivered you,” she said. After re-reading the article, Rasse thought the name sounded familiar, and through a mutual friend asked if Jake’s dad was the same Stroup who’d welcomed her into the world.
Stroup lost track of the Rasse family, too. Gillette is a transient energy town and police officers see a lot over the course of nearly two decades on the job. But in all that Stroup’s seen over his long career, Rasse is still the only newborn baby he met in the line of duty.
“I did not know they were still here,” Stroup said. “I’d always hoped and prayed that things had gone well.”
The Rasse family stayed in Gillette and Rachel was a classmate and friend of Stroup’s son, Jake. She also graduated from TBHS last weekend and walked across the stage just 28 places ahead of Jake in the ceremony.
Not only had things gone well for her, she was one of four students to graduate from Gillette College with an associate degree before she graduated from high school. She was recognized by the high school as its Outstanding Senior. But neither she nor Jake knew of their families’ connection. Until graduation rolled around and invitations needed to be sent, that magical time in which past, present and future all collide.
It’s often said that a person can’t truly know where she’s going until she knows where she’s been. Perhaps that is a reason graduation celebrations become a tug of war between the past and the future.
Telling the story of where Rachel’s been, where she came from, is a family tradition at this point.
“Everyone when they hear that story, they’re like, ‘What?! That’s crazy!’ and it just gets everyone’s attention,” Rachel said. “It was just fun to be able to tell that story and have something to say and share with my classmates.”
“I can’t even begin to imagine how many people we’ve told,” Monte said. “Not very many people get the opportunity to have something like this happen.
“It’s just a point of interest in our lifetime, one of those memorable occasions. There was a lot of adrenaline. Nobody panicked. It was just one of those things that happened that you ain’t never going to forget.”
“It’s always a story that I’m always telling and thinking about,” Barb said. “Anytime a coworker is pregnant and getting ready to deliver, I think about her birth. They always have the icebreakers that are like, ‘Share something unique about you,’ and that’s the story I always share.”
As for Rachel, she knows exactly where she’s from.
Perhaps she’ll tell the story in her own round of icebreakers as she goes off to the University of Wyoming in the fall. But in reliving the story for graduation, and adding a new chapter to it by sending the invitation to Stroup, she was reminded how much there is to learn even about stories that are considered well-settled.
The world is a wondrous place, full of unknown connections and serendipity. There could hardly be a more appropriate time in her life to be reminded of that.