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All Good Things Must End
Jun 15, 2012
South Dakota's rural solitude is church-like to many of us. I don't know how many farmers and ranchers have told me through the years that they've felt closer to God on the land than in a pew.
When cowboy troubadour Kyle Evans sang "I'm in Heaven on a horse on the wide open prairies of Dakota ..." he spoke for everybody who has ever chewed on a blade of blue stem.
But as church-like as the prairie might be, it seemed even holier at Blue Cloud Abbey in Grant County — a picturesque little monastery that grew into a popular retreat center for all sorts of people, including South Dakota's reflective writer Kathleen Norris.
The true story of how the monks came to locate near Milbank is as sweet as the prairie grass. The priests and monks at St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana wanted to establish a new monastery in the Dakotas so they sent four brothers to scout the area in 1949. They liked a spot above the Missouri and James Rivers near Yankton, but WNAX's tall radio towers obstructed the view so they decided to drive to Fargo, North Dakota.
On the way (this was before I-29 was built) they stopped outside the tiny town of Marvin and saw a rolling, wooded string of hills above Grant County's Whetstone Valley. The land was rocky but they liked it so they went to nearby Milbank to inquire. They were directed to the Milbank banker, who told them that they land had just been listed for sale within the last 30 minutes. He offered them 300 acres at $22 an acre.
Their good timing and the banker's name were signs they couldn't ignore, so the Benedictine monks immediately inked the deal. The banker's name? Effner Benedict.
There were 40 founding members, but their numbers have now dwindled to a dozen and three are over 90. "What else can we do?" asked Abbot Denis Quinkert, as he solemnly spoke of the monastery's plan to close the doors.
Abbot Denis hopes a religious group will take over the monastery, but no one knows what will happen to the beautiful facility. The only thing we know for certain is that the same spiritual quality that was discovered by the Indiana monks 63 years ago — a spirituality that is very familiar to all who love the land in South Dakota — will be there to await the next tenants.