Esther Taskerud was born on July 17, 1905 in Aberdeen, South Dakota and grew up in Frederick, a small town outside of Aberdeen. Taskerud’s mother died when she was young, so her aunts and family friends stepped into the maternal role and taught her homemaking skills. When she was thirteen, Taskerud’s family sent her to the Northern Normal and Industrial School in Aberdeen, although she later transferred to a different school closer to home from which she graduated in 1923. She took six weeks of summer classes following her graduation in order to qualify for a teaching certificate. She then spent a year teaching before opening up a restaurant specializing in baked goods, pastries, and cakes, while also helping her father to manage an amusement park.
Shortly after this time she began attending South Dakota State University, paying her tuition by working in the university dining hall, babysitting, and doing housework for the university president’s wife. The Great Depression put a hold on her education for a few years, but she was able to support herself and eventually afford to complete her degree by teaching fourth and fifth grade and working for Montgomery Ward, a mail-order retailer for department store goods.
Taskerud went on to work as a home extension agent for three years during the Great Depression, and was later invited to work for the state 4-H Club Office as a food specialist. When rationing during World War II reduced the availability of common ingredients, Taskerud used her expertise to teach women how to substitute other ingredients to make their own soaps, cosmetics, and hand lotions. She was admitted to Columbia University to pursue a master’s degree, during which time she also served as a trustee for the National 4-H Foundation.
In 1947 Taskerud moved to Corvallis, Oregon, where she became a supervisor in the 4-H Club and later the director of the Home Extension Program and the Assistant Director of the Cooperative Extension Service; she held both positions until she retired in 1969. In 1958 she was awarded the U.S. Department of Agriculture Superior Service Award, and in 1962 she became the first woman to be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Science from South Dakota State University. Taskerud never married, but when she retired in 1969 her co-workers gave her a diamond ring, which she wore on her left hand to signify her dedication and commitment to her work.
Taskerud continued to be heavily involved in community service acts after her retirement and made a point of keeping in touch with old friends, family, and co-workers. She was known for always having time to “walk the second mile” for her friends and family. She passed away on June 12, 1997.