Join our Editor-at-large and founder, Bernie Hunhoff, as he offers stories, quips & travel tips gathered as he roams South Dakota. Other magazine staffers may contribute here or there as well. Enjoy the South Dakota miscellanea.
July 26, 2016
Carl and Jan Brush of Yankton are loyal readers of our magazine, and avid bicyclists. This summer they are combining those two loves on a cross-country trip, using past South Dakota Magazine stories to guide them to interesting people and places. They've agreed to post some reports from the road so we can go along on their eight-day, 360 mile journey.
DAY TWO: Billy Goats and Back Treatments
Our first stop was Bridgewater, where we noticed the sign for Sparky Anderson Park. Remembering him as a famous baseball manager, we stopped at nearby Vondra Jewelry to inquire. Jack Vondra, age 91, was happy to share some local history. Sparky was born and raised in Bridgewater. He managed two world champion teams at Cincinnati and one at Detroit. He returned to his hometown occasionally. Sparky's favorite saying was, "Never forget where you are from!"
North of Bridgewater we were followed a short distance by a young billy goat. We convinced it to not eat our bike luggage. We checked two nearby farms, but nobody was home. A lady mail carrier came by. She thought she knew the owners and would call them.
The next five miles turned into gravel. But last year it was paved! A local said it would be repaved soon. We reluctantly rode it rather than backtrack six miles.
We arrived in Canistota after 40 miles. As expected there were numerous Amish folks on Main Street. From past visits, we knew that they come here from all over the Midwest and beyond for chiropractic treatment at the Ortman Clinic.
We visited with some Amish folks from Wisconsin and Minnesota. They were fascinated by our trike. The Amish prefer to not be photographed, so out of respect we took no pictures. There are seven motels in this town of 700 to accommodate them.
Dinner at the hotel cafe was excellent. Jan loved the strawberry rhubarb pie!
Click here to read Day One of Carl and Jan's journey.
July 25, 2016
Carl and Jan Brush of Yankton are loyal readers of our magazine, and avid bicyclists. This summer they are combining those two loves on a cross-country trip, using past issues and articles to guide them to interesting people and places. The Brushes have cycled in all 50 states. “But we like South Dakota best!” says Jan. They intend to travel about 360 miles in the next eight days. They’ve agreed to post some reports from the road so we can go along.
DAY ONE: German Cuisine and a Stone Church
We took off from Yankton Sunday morning. We met Ella Berth and Edna Kalubt near the old stone church south of Menno. They told us that Albert Gunderson split the stones with help from an inmate and the congregation in 1935. The church still has services on Wednesday evenings.
In Menno it started to rain so we parked the trike out of the weather at the school and visited the Open Door Cafe for lunch. Great food! We met owners Jerome and Rita Hoff. Rita was proud to point out the framed pages from South Dakota Magazine, Sep/Oct 2011, featuring their German meals that are still served every Tuesday. Rita mentioned the sign above her. It was made by Jerry Buum who passed away young. His widow, Vicky works at Yankton's Hy-Vee bakery. The Elvis shirt is an antique, collected by Rita's daughter-in-law.
Overall it was a great ride. We stayed dry. 51 miles total. We saw lots of wildlife. Everyone waved and a herd of horses greeted us west of Freeman at the Jonas farm and ran alongside us for 100 yards inside their pen. We love cycling in South Dakota!
Note: We ride a tandem recumbent trike. It is a 27 speed and is 10 ft long. The brand is Terra Trike, built in Michigan.
June 27, 2016
Friends and family will bury Pat Mickelson Adam on Tuesday. It will be a relatively quiet service — quite unlike the overwhelming grief bestowed across the state when her brother George died in 1993 in the tragic plane crash that also killed seven other state leaders. But Pat, like her brother the governor, also deeply loved South Dakota. She made this a better place through family commitment, community service and a decade as Secretary of the South Dakota State Senate. When she retired from the senate in 2006, Senator Lee Schoenbeck was President Pro Temp. He took the occasion to make these remarks. They are as pertinent today as when he delivered them 10 years ago.
By State Rep. Lee Schoenbeck
Those who have served in senate leadership these past 11 years, especially know and understand just how important Pat Adam has been to this institution. We appreciate the simple things: whispered advice to avert embarrassment or problems, the heads up foresight about impending issues, the ability to make leaders look like they can “see around corners.”
But some times we forget just what a special person serves amongst us. Pat Adam, your life is woven through the history and politics of our state, like no other person alive here in Pierre today. Your father served with distinction in the legislature, as Attorney General, and as Governor. Your brother’s service followed his father as Speaker and as Governor. Your sorrow in the loss of your brother was felt by the entire state.
Pat Adam, your father and your brother were accomplished South Dakotan public servants, but the male members of the Mickelson clan fell short when compared to their fairer member before us – in one very special way. They only served in the House. The Senate has been your playground!
In a place often plagued with discord and discontent, you have brought order, friendship, kindness — and an award winning smile. When your steady hand leaves the rostrum, an important piece of our history leaves this body. A valued friend leaves this institution.
We can’t fault you wanting to be with a husband that we’ve all come to know and respect from his days as a lobbyist and public servant. We can’t fault you for wanting to see more of three children that have already begun to make their mark on our state’s landscape. And we surely can’t fault a 39 year old lady that wants to enjoy her grandchildren – but you will be missed. You are a classy lady.
A dear reader recently visited Gettysburg, Pa., and came upon this street sign noting the distance from there to the town bearing the same name in South Dakota. We're delighted to see that the Easterners haven't forgotten their ancestors who came West in 1883 and staked out a town in Potter County. The Yanks camped at a place called Eagle Peak, considered by some to be the highest point between the Appalachians and the Black Hills. They plotted a town two miles south of the peak and named it Gettysburg after the site of their bloody victory.
Gettysburg defeated the neighboring town of Forest City for the county seat in 1884, but the Forest City folks wouldn't relinquish the government records. The feud ended when the old blue-coats armed themselves and stole the safe and papers at daybreak. Nobody challenged them and the rest is history.
There were just 200 settlers at the start but today Gettysburg, S.D. has grown to a population of more than 1,100. (The original Gettysburg has a population of about 7,000.)
The linkage and military heritage has continued into the 21st century with occasional re-enactments by South Dakotans of the Battle of Gettysburg. Even the Forest City neighbors come to celebrate.
Did you know that there's a third Gettysburg in the USA? It's a town of just 500 people in Ohio that was founded even before the Civil War. But it is also named after the city in Pennsylvania.
April 28, 2016
Our geocache is back in Yankton after spending the summer of 2015 visiting on the front porch of the Berdahl-Rolvaag House, located at Heritage Park on the Augustana University campus in Sioux Falls. Our logbook appears to have floated off in a gust of prairie wind, but we found a few comments from satisfied geocachers online:
“Very interesting history. Thanks, South Dakota Magazine. I am part of the Goonies cachers — family members from Mitchell, Sioux Falls, Rapid City. We have found all of your caches so far except the first one. The door was locked to the tower and it was on a Sunday with nobody around to let us in.” — Buffalodon
“SEEK84 and I stopped by to pick this one up as we were returning from Yankton where we had been geocaching for 3 days. I honestly did not know this place existed until we stopped to find the cache and sign the log. SEEK84 and I actually stopped by the South Dakota Magazine office prior to heading north/home. Here we found their cache and paid our subscription for another year. Love the magazine and love the cache. Thanks for placing another one.” — Jaguars96
“I left work a little early today so I could stop and visit my niece and newborn baby boy. This came out as I was on my way so I made a little detour. I have gone past this park many times but never stopped. I'm glad I had a reason today.” — Raw54
Thanks to those who sought out last year’s cache and learned a little bit about South Dakota history at the Berdahl-Rolvaag House. Part of Augustana’s Heritage Park, the house was built by Norwegian immigrant Andrew Berdahl near Garretson in 1884. Andrew’s daughter Jennie married “Giants in the Earth” author Ole Rolvaag, and some of their possessions can be found inside the home. A 1909 schoolhouse once used near Renner Corner, Beaver Creek Lutheran Church, and the cabin where Ole Rolvaag wrote are also located at Heritage Park, south of 33rd Street between Grange and Prairie Avenue in Sioux Falls.
Our 2016 geocache will be ready soon! When we have coordinates for you, we’ll post them here in Editor’s Notebook.
January 13, 2016
Our January e-newsletter featured a look at the most popular stories on our website last year. It was such a great list that we thought we'd share it here too. (If you'd like to receive our free e-newsletter, click here to sign up!)
Colombe’s Colome — Named for a dashing and daring rancher, this Tripp County town still has cowboy attitude.
Most Watched Video
How Do You Say Sinai — Speaking South Dakotan is not always as straightforward as it might seem. South Dakota Magazine staff try pronouncing this tricky town name in Brookings County.
Most Popular Historic Article
The Verne Miller Story — Following the trail of a Beadle County sheriff turned gangster.
Most Viewed Photo Gallery
Abandoned, Not Forgotten — Dan Ray shares photos of the former St. Mary’s convent and school south of Zell.
Tale of Two Paths — No matter what road you take, Gregory County is worth exploring.
Most Popular Hike
Up Close — The Crazy Horse Volksmarch gives hikers a unique view of the mountain carving in progress.
Freeman’s Savory Soup — Summer savory provides a subtle punch to a traditional German dish.
Most Popular Sport
Love for the Game — Six baseball lifers explain their passion for our national pastime.
Brookings’ Rhubarb King — Jan Sanderson has perfected his ruby-red crop one plant at a time for 35 years.
Most Popular Article
Welcome, Mr. President — Bernie Hunhoff’s open letter to the president following news that Barack Obama would deliver Lake Area Tech’s commencement address.
November 3, 2015
Editor's Note — Pierre native Joseph Bottum went to Washington and built a career by writing about politics and religion. When he and his family came home to settle in Hot Springs, he knew there'd be challenges to continuing his career path in South Dakota. But he wasn't thinking that the new roadblocks would have antlers and four legs. We reprint this essay from The Weekly Standard.
She seemed more curious than frightened, the doe-eyed ... doe, I suppose, and we studied each other for a long moment or two. She, calm in a farmer’s field, looking over the fence line. And me, unmoving in the wreck, staring back at her through the shattered glass.
Then some click of the cooling engine, or maybe a groan of bent metal and drip of radiator fluid, convinced her that I wasn’t worth her time. The deer trotted a few yards further along the fence, leapt it with a neatfoot bounce, and disappeared off into the woods — leaving me to climb my way out of my broken car and scrabble back up to the highway, hoping to flag down some help.
Odd, really, to see her so clearly, so sharply, when I never actually saw the other deer, the one I hit at 80 miles an hour on a South Dakota highway—the one that left me with a couple of cracked ribs, a chipped collarbone, a gouged ankle, and a sprained wrist. Oh, and a spectacular set of bruises placed around my body with the precision of a drunken xylophonist.
Plus, of course, a totaled car. There are, it is said, more deer in North America today than there were when the Pilgrims landed. Certainly there are more out on the western prairies. The Homestead Acts often required the planting of acres of trees to prove a farmer’s claim, and those windbreaks and narrow groves have added up to a massive national nature preserve: a refuge for white-tails and mule deer. Of course, they then wander out onto the highway, where there’s not much refuge for either deer or the drivers who hit them.
Nearly everyone I’ve spoken to, in the days since my accident, has a story of animals on the road. The problem, in my case, is that the first notice I had was the darkening of my field of vision as the windshield bowed in at me. Picturing the accident now, I realize that the deer probably didn’t see me, either. Driving into the dark, with the twilight behind me, my car would have been invisible, and the deer must have jumped up out of the long fall grass of the road’s shoulder at exactly the right moment to slide across the hood of the car and land, back first, on the windshield.
But I see that only in retrospect. At the time, the craze of cracks in the safety glass left me blind as I flinched and swerved, only to slide sideways down the steep embankment and bang along a 50-yard line of—what else?—trees planted as a farmer’s windbreak maybe a hundred years before. Eventually, the fender was bent in enough that the front wheel could catch on one of the trees, swinging the car 180 degrees so that the driver’s side could get its own share of smashing.
I’m not sure where, along the way, the deer fell off. A little blood on the fender, as though I’d clipped its legs, and some hair on the windshield shards were all that was left—even on the trail of plowed down grass I’d left behind. However badly injured, the deer somehow managed to walk away from the accident.
Which is better than I did. For me, it was more of a crawl out of the car and up the embankment to wait for help. After I declined an ambulance, a paramedic told me I’d need X-rays and taping up, and, sore as I was, I’d be even sorer the next day, once everything tightened up. So I signed the highway patrolman’s accident report and had the tow-truck driver drop me off at a Sioux Falls car-rental agency— deciding that, since I still faced a six-hour drive back home to the Black Hills, I might as well do it immediately rather than wait for the painful stiffness of the next day.
That may have been a mistake. The Midwestern demand for self-sufficiency, an often self-defeating virtue drilled into my boyhood, was strong enough to get me up and moving. Strong enough, for that matter, to keep me going about as far as Rapid City. But, man, the hour in the car beyond that, driving home into the Hills, was a trial.
Still, I figured that if the deer I hit could walk away from the accident — if the other deer, the one I watched from my wreck, could stay calm even after I’d smashed through her woods — I could probably make it home, however painful the final miles. And though I saw a few deer in the woods along the way, they must have decided enough was enough. None of them jumped out into the road, and I made it at last home to painkillers and bed.
October 7, 2015
Our new map prints are in! Renowned watercolor artist Mike Reagan's latest work depicts the Missouri River as it flows through South Dakota, along with a few of the fish that draw sportsmen to its waters. We’re proud to offer his work as an unframed 16” x 20” art print for just $24.95 plus shipping and handling. Click here if you’d like to buy the new Missouri River map print for your home or office, or purchase it as a set, along with Reagan's South Dakota and Black Hills prints, for just $64.95.
September 30, 2015
Good news! Only three percent of South Dakotans want to head for the border. That’s what we learned in our South Dakota Happiness Poll, a quick one-question quiz that we handed out to fairgoers during our 30th anniversary Fair Tour.
Our circulation director, Ashley Wagner, crunched the numbers for us. Here’s how attendees of the Turner County Fair in Parker, Central State Fair in Rapid City and South Dakota State Fair answered the question, “How do you rate life in South Dakota?”
- 44 percent marked “paradise”
- 47 percent said it’s “plenty good”
- 6 percent voted for “satisfactory”
- 3 percent said “where’s the border, I’m leaving.”
Katie Hunhoff, our magazine’s editor and publisher, said that the Happiness Poll could become a regular feature of our fair visits. “Ninety-one percent said life is plenty good or paradise. We think it might be interesting to see if that number goes up or down in the years ahead.”
“There’s also a valid question of whether fair-goers are happier than people who don’t eat SDSU ice cream and pork sandwiches,” she said, “but the people we talked to seemed like a good cross-section of South Dakotans — except that country music fans might be over-represented. Our state fair booth was right next to Sherwin Linton’s stage.”
She said the poll also might be tainted by the philosophy of one respondent who said, “It’s paradise but let’s not tell anybody.”
July 22, 2015
We stopped by Mitchell's Main Street this week to see the progress on major renovations to the Corn Palace. Though the project is running a few months late, the end — or the cornstruction as some call it — is nearly complete.
We got a quick tour from Katie Knutson and Cherie Ramsdell. Katie is the director of Mitchell's Convention and Visitors Bureau. Cherie is the artist who designs the murals — a task once done by the legendary Oscar Howe.
The changes are making the old palace seem warmer and more people-friendly. Old concrete pillars in the lobby have been redesigned as corn ears, and decorated with ceramic tile from Italy arranged in an abstract way like kernels on a cob. A second floor balcony now hangs above Main Street. Already, the community is using it for Thursday night concerts. A bright second floor area is now devoted to Howe, the Lakota artist. Huge windows have been reopened. The outdoor murals are larger than ever. And the new steel domes give an abstract look of corn husks, especially when lit at night. (They were still sitting on the street when we stopped.)
Congratulations to the Mitchell community. They've embraced our corn culture with the palace since 1892. John Philip Sousa performed there in 1904, and since then the big brick barn has been Mitchell's invite to the world. Today's Corn Palace leadership has done all of South Dakota a great favor by modernizing and reconfiguring the architectural treasure. Plan to stop and see the changes on your travels.
July 9, 2015
Chol Atem and Amon Ortman have something in common, though they lived 100 years apart. Amon was a pioneer healer, the founder of the Ortman Chiropractic Clinic at Canistota that is celebrating its 100th year this month. More about Chol in a few paragraphs.
We have always loved the story of Amon Ortman, the farmer with a gift for healing. The legacy he created through the generations continues today, and we've featured it on several occasions in South Dakota Magazine.
Of course I never met Amon Ortman, but I feel like I know him because like many of you I grew up with old-timers like that. People who worked hard. Who cared about their neighbors and their communities. People who thought you could do great things right here in South Dakota as well as anywhere else in the world.
I can easily picture Amon, after a hard day’s work of his own in the field, coming to the farmyard and finding a neighbor waiting with a sore shoulder. And I can see him inviting the neighbor to maybe sit on the running board of the car. They talk about the rain --- or the lack of rain – and Amon lays his hands on that bad shoulder.
People like Amon and places like Canistota have made all the difference for South Dakota. The Ortmans and the Husteads and the Andersons and the Hubers and the Larsons and the Brockelsbys and the Bakers and ten thousand other families who've gutted out their dreams, stuck it out and made it work.
Now to Chol Atem. Earlier this year, in our May/June issue, we did something different in the magazine. We invited a few dozen people to write words of advice for the high school and college students who would be graduating this year.
We called them “letters to graduates.” I thought the most touching letter came from a young man we've come to know who works at a convenience store in Yankton. His name is Chol Atem. I met Chol when he came to Pierre to help us pass a policy that discourages the State Investment Office from investing funds with companies who support the kind of genocide his family faced in Sudan.
Chol grew up 7,500 miles away from South Dakota, across the Atlantic Ocean. He was one of the “Lost Boys of Sudan,” driven away from his small town by terrorists who burned and ravaged his town and killed his relatives. He didn’t want to leave but he had no choice.
He survived, miraculously, and came to study at Mount Marty College in Yankton. He now lives and works in Yankton. And what did he tell our young readers of the magazine?
He had no choice but to leave home. But Chol challenged young South Dakotans to think twice before leaving their homes. “Step up to the plate and stop this chronic cycle of mass exodus to other states by generations of young South Dakotans,” he said. “It is time to invest and build our state of South Dakota. It takes one step to form an unstoppable movement. We are who we are by where we come from.”
“There is nothing like home,” says Chol, who had to find a new home in South Dakota. “I challenge you to rise beyond something bigger than yourselves. Invest your talents and expertise in building your state.”
Chol’s birth home and the Ortmans and Canistota are an ocean apart in more ways than one. But he and the Ortmans hold the very same idea of home.
June 16, 2015
Ms. Wheelchair South Dakota will have a simple message when she represents our state at the national event in Des Moines, Iowa at the end of July.
Look at the person, she says, not the disability.
Dixie Lemme, 65, of Sioux Falls was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2002, and has been using a wheelchair for the last nine years. “Lots of times people see the chair, they don’t see you,” Lemme told Jill Callison of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Lemme is a comedian who knows how to communicate a message. So she entered the pageant to tell the story of people who happen to have disabilities.
“I just want to open up some eyes to hopefully make people see things,” she says. “People that are disabled have jobs, they have their family, but people have prejudices about them.”
Congratulations to a real champ for people with disabilities. She’ll make us proud in Iowa.
May 22, 2015
Our publishing house is once again in harmony now that we’ve brought on USD alum Ashley Wagner to lead efforts in circulation and marketing. A Jackrabbit/Coyote balance (previously a two-to-one ratio) is essential to a happy workplace at South Dakota Magazine.
Ashley, a Wisconsin native, recently married a local farmer and high school teacher. She and her husband Brandon live on the family farm near Utica. Here's how she answered some of our tough questions.
What's on the top of your "South Dakota To-Do" list?
I would love to take a helicopter ride over Mount Rushmore!
What's your favorite trail?
Lewis and Clark trail by Spirit Mound (just outside Vermillion). I was on the track team while attending the University of South Dakota and we would go to Spirit Mound to do hill workouts. Let’s just say you get very close with your teammates during hill workouts.
If you could meet one character from South Dakota history, who would that person be?
I would love to meet Wild Bill Hickok. But then again, who wouldn’t want to meet that troublemaker.
What is your favorite South Dakota eatery?
My husband’s family has introduced me to Marv’s Bar in Utica. It’s a small bar with “regulars” and everyone knows you. I love it because it is so different from anything I have ever seen or grown up with.
As a transplant to farm life, what advice do you have for other new farm wives?
Don’t sweat the little stuff (something I am still working on). And check pockets before washing clothes. I don’t know how many times I have temporarily broken my washing machine because of a loose nail or fence wire being stuck in the machine.
May 14, 2015
“History is recorded by the victors,” said Winston Churchill.
“History is made by those who show up,” said Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century Israeli leader. Combine his quote with Churchill’s and you have the answer to why the wonderful and not-so-little Daneville Heritage Museum in Viborg has such a nice collection of Democratic memorabilia.
We spent a morning this week in Viborg, working on a story that will be published in our July/August issue. This is an 800-population boom town in Turner County, one of the more Republican conclaves to be found in East River, South Dakota (not that Republican conclaves are rare by any means in the state). The well-kept little downtown has a hardware store, three restaurants, bank, hospital, grocery store, vintage auto restoration shop, historic movie theater and all the other amenities you might expect. Towns 10 times Viborg's size don’t have all that downtown.
And it has a wonderful museum that actually has a decent revenue stream. “We joke sometimes that the museum will be here long after the town,” says Rich Skola, who directs the facility. That’s because of the generosity of many local individuals and families, but especially because of Alphie “Toots" Peterson, an avid historian who donated much time and money.
Her husband, Merle, ran as a Democratic candidate for state legislature in the 1960s when Ralph Herseth and George McGovern were leading a resurgence of the party. She died two years ago, at age 94, leaving the museum some of her assets. She’s perhaps one reason why the Daneville museum has a 1960 poster of the Democratic ticket, with photos of Merle and McGovern and all the other candidates — along with a big poster of McGovern, plus an exhibit of Hubert H. Humphrey and other Democratic memorabilia.
Somewhere in the museum, there’s an Eisenhower collector’s plate, says Skola. A few visitors have kidded about the space given to Democrats in a Republican county. But nobody really seems to be bothered by the exhibits.
And it’s not that Turner County voters won’t elect Democrats. Roberta Rasmussen, a local farmer and activist, represented the district in the 1990s. Roberta has also been active with the local museum, and Skola says she may be more responsible for the Democratic paraphernalia than Toots. More recently, grocer Tom Jones was the state senator from Viborg.
So just show up, as Disraeli said 200 years ago. And save your posters and bumper stickers.
Note — In the spirit of complete transparency, we should note that the writer is a Democratic state senator from nearby Yankton County. That might help to explain his undue fascination with the above subject matter.
May 11, 2015
Damn the tornado. What else can you say about a soul-less storm that attacked the pastoral little town of Delmont on Mother’s Day morning?
Nine people were hurt. How badly we don’t know. But all of the 250 citizens of this town and all who care about it are also hurting. Not bleeding. Not bruised, perhaps. But hurting.
Here in South Dakota we like to be friends with Nature. She sustains us. Gives us sun and rain to grow and live. And yet every now and again, Nature erupts and we find that she’s neither friend or foe — but rather a force.
Most of us who live in southeast South Dakota know Delmont as a quiet little place between Mitchell and Yankton. Maybe you’ve heard of the Delmont pickle party? Or maybe you’re one of those who, while driving Highway 18 through Douglas County, turns north a mile or two to grab some of the amazing brats at the Blue Bird Locker. You check to see that the turret on the Onion House is still there. You see if anyone has done anything with the big brick grocery store with the murals. You admire the steeple on the Lutheran Church. You notice that everything is mowed and nicely tended downtown. And then you’re gone until next time.
Hearing of the destruction is hard enough for those of us who are casual fans of the town.
But for the 250 people who live there every day — and for the several thousand people who care deeply about them (yes, a town of 250 is always bigger than 250) — it must be unimaginable. Something only those who have suffered and survived such storms can understand.
Our May/June issue of South Dakota Magazine has stories from the survivors of last summer’s June 18 tornado in Wessington Springs. The Springs citizens were honest and frank about the experience. No sugar-coating or grandiose toughness. “I’m still going through it, it’s still hard,” said Donna Krueger, who lost her husband to cancer three months after the storm.
“It’s pretty hard to come back from,” said Ward Barber. “But what choice do we have? As long as we’re alive we’ll make some kind of memories.”
In Delmont, the Onion House is badly damaged. The Lutheran Church is cut in half. The town is evacuated.
Nature didn’t win and fortunately no one lost a life. The town is more than 125 years old. Life will go on for the town and its people, because it’s the nature of things. It’s going to be hard. Let’s look for ways to help.
— Bernie Hunhoff
May 5, 2015
By Bernie Hunhoff
Mr. President, welcome to South Dakota. You’ll be landing Air Force One on Friday in the center of our great USA. The official geographic center is near Belle Fourche, a six-hour car drive straight west of where you’ll speak in Watertown.
In between are farms and ranches, towns and small cities — all populated by mostly hard-working and decent people who don’t expect much of the Washington whence you come.
Oh, we’ll take what we can get when offered. We’ve seen enough hard times — droughts, floods, hail storms and tornadoes — to know that you don’t bite anybody’s hand. But we don’t expect much. Most of us were raised with the belief that the next government check — like the next rain — might be the last for awhile, and we’re ok with that.
We figure we'd have the same number of farmers and ranchers if Washington had never sent a nickel through an ag program. We farm because we farm. For the sake of pure patriotism, we'd host Ellsworth Air Force Base for the nation even if it didn’t add a dime to the economy. Our Native American citizens would still call places like Pine Ridge and Standing Rock their home even if you tore up the treaties and never spent another dollar on the rez. And we would have probably allowed you (I say “you” because as president, you represent the government to us) to flood our middle section of the state by the four Missouri River dams even if we didn’t get some fine walleye fishing in exchange.
As a state senator, I can promise you that we’d find a way to balance our state budget if we lost the 40% that comes from Washington. It wouldn’t be easy, but we’d survive the same way we dig out of blizzards. One shovel after another. Our senior citizens appreciate Medicare and Social Security, but the cost of living is lower here so we’d probably even get by without those wonderful perks.
Washington is a million miles away from our daily lives.
I wish you had a a day or two to spend in South Dakota. You could take federal Highway 212 from Watertown and drive to Belle Fourche, past the most cussedly independent folks on our planet. Most of them don’t belong to your political party, but you could stop in any small town or pull into any farm driveway and you’d be met with the biggest smiles you’ve ever enjoyed. As a Democrat, you’d love the giant concrete donkey at Tinkertown, just west of Watertown, and the immense fiberglass pheasant at Redfield.
As you cross the great Missouri, America’s grandest river, you’ll enter the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation, one of the places where our government sent the Lakota. It hasn’t worked well from most viewpoints. Capitalism hasn’t taken root. Health care is a disaster. Alcoholism is a problem. But it is Home to the Lakota, with a capital H. The reservation people face many challenges, but it wouldn't take you long to find very spiritual and determined people who are working to make things better for the next generation.
The Cheyenne also marks the gateway to true cowboy country. On down Highway 212, you’ll want to stop for a hot beef sandwich and some conversation at the Faith Livestock Auction Barn. The salty ranchers of West River are everything Ronald Reagan dreamed of being.
South Dakotans neither love or hate the government you run. Likewise, most neither love or hate you. Oh, we have a few political nut cakes. But fewer than most places. Most South Dakotans are too busy with daily life to think a lot about Washington and all your problems.
But don’t get me wrong. I welcome you to South Dakota. We all welcome you. We’re always happy when folks come here and spend some money, just as we like a good rain.
April 30, 2015
A young lady from South Dakota is the modern-day “Marlin Perkins” for Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Earlier this week I had a chance to get acquainted with her when she spoke at a meeting of South Dakota’s retired teachers in Pierre.
Stephanie Arne breaks all the molds. She was a high-achiever at Riggs High School in Pierre, and enjoyed her years as a biology student at South Dakota State University.
But she’s not the 9-5 type, so as soon as she got her degree in Brookings she took to the road — working for any wildlife organization that had an opening. It hardly seemed like a great career path. She took low wage jobs with the country’s finest zoos in Omaha, San Diego and Honolulu. Good experiences if you love critters, and she does. Not a good way to save for your first mortgage.
Even zoos couldn't hold her back. She eventually traveled the world for a decade, finding ways to work with animals in Thailand, Japan and Africa. She showed up in Australia without a clue as to how she was going to make ends meet, and soon she was giving wildlife tours on day charters.
She became known as a wildlife ambassador — a person passionate about birds and animals and the challenges they face on an fast-changing planet. “You should have a show,” friends kept saying.
And then she heard about a job opening with Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, one of the most respected wildlife shows in the history of broadcasting. She and about 500 others applied. Upon meeting her, it’s no surprise that she won the position once held by renowned naturalists Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler.
She acknowledged that while she always had the support of her parents and teachers, they probably didn’t figure she was on a great professional trajectory while earning barely sustainable wages, sometimes for scooping pelican poop. We expect our youth to be more responsible: stay safe, earn your way and fit the mold of today’s demanding workplace. Be a square peg in a square hole.
Fortunately, Stephanie followed her heart. She did what she loved, what she thought was important. By those important standards, she was a success even before she was chosen to host Wild Kingdom.
Steph strongly credits her South Dakota upbringing and education, and is proud to always call this home. Several of her teachers were in the audience as she spoke. Buttons were busting off their jackets as she spoke about the importance of a great teacher.
Now she’s teaching the world about the nature. She’s known as the wildlife ambassador, but she’s also a fine ambassador for Pierre and Brookings and our entire South Dakota. And for young people brave enough to resist the normal patterns of society.
March 18, 2015
Funny how so many memories of life in a small town revolve around food. That’s the thought that came to me as I thumbed through a little book called “Memories of Turton” that was sent to me awhile back by Kay Britten.
Turton is south of Aberdeen, a town of a few dozen with a magnificent old Catholic church. In June, the feast day of St. John the Baptist is celebrated with real gusto at St. Joe’s. The public school’s mascot was The Frogs, a reference to the French culture of the first settlers. Students now go to Doland and neighboring towns, but good-humored folks still carry on the frog theme.
The school and church are also fondly remembered in the little book, but they take second fiddle to the culinary delights of rural South Dakota.
Jean Barrie Sundvold related that she likes to tell about “when Dad was chopping the heads off the chickens in the backyard, and they would flop all over the yard. We canned them one year and had to take the meat off the drumsticks because they were too big to fit in a quart jar.”
On that same topic, Jeff Barrie reported that there is truth behind the old saying, “Running around with your head cut off."
Myrna Barrie Syverson recalled the little cafe where she gathered with friends after ballgames to enjoy fried egg sandwiches and Cokes with salted peanuts. She also mentioned, “the rabbit hunts on Sundays … making hot chocolate and sandwiches for the hunters.”
Cory Syverson liked burgers and Mello Yello at the Corner Station and catching pike on the bridge over the river. He also recalled big frog hunts — but those didn’t end with a meal. “When we caught them all, we took them all up to the church and let them go!”
Jeff Barrie said one lesson he learned early: “If you’re a vegetarian, pack your own lunch.”
But there were many memories that have more to do with feeding the soul. Alaish Wren said it best when she wrote, “I love the freedom of Turton, and the steadiness of it. I love the forgotten-ness of it. When you come home from Turton you’re never really sure if all of that really happened, or if it even exists or goes on existing while you’re away. Maybe it just appears for you only. What a treasure."
March 17, 2015
What happened to all the sheep in South Dakota? As we travel about the state, it’s plain to see that we don’t have anywhere near the numbers of just a few years ago.
Coyotes and mountain lions are probably partly to blame. Farmers and ranchers are, on average, getting grayer. And lamb prices aren’t often high enough to scratch the competitive itch.
Our 2014 sheep count was just 255,000 head. That’s about one-sixth as many as we had in the 1960s.
Sheep and wool were big industries, especially in certain West River counties. But most ranchers prefer to raise cattle these days. For better or worse, a colorful piece of our rural culture is slipping away.
Maybe it’s topic we should explore in greater length in the main magazine. Let us know if you have any good sheep stories.
March 2, 2015
They say paper is dead. Especially paper books. Anybody who still reads books is buying e-books. So goes conventional wisdom.
But in the age of blogging and Facebook and all the other diversions, book publishing has returned to South Dakota … returned with class and success.
Book publishing, when done correctly, is a difficult mix of creativity and commerce, two things that can be incompatible in rural places. Still, South Dakota has had some good publishing houses.
The Center for Western Studies on the Augustana College campus has produced some timeless and important tomes. There was once a University of South Dakota Press in Vermillion. Aberdeen had a privately owned book publisher, though the name escapes me. There was a Brevet Publishing in Sioux Falls. Pine Hill Printer in Freeman helped several hundred authors self-publish. Linda Hasselstrom has had success with books under a name only rural people would even understand, Windbreak. We’ve published a handful of books here at South Dakota Magazine.
Just as many of our university and private book publishers were winding down, along came the South Dakota Historical Society Press in Pierre. As an arm of the state historical society, it was publishing a half dozen or so books a year and doing it quite nicely under the leadership of Nancy Tystad Koupal.
Book runs in South Dakota are generally under 5,000 — and often 1,000 or 2,000. The SDHSP was sometimes exceeding those numbers, and by all accounts doing an excellent job of publishing important regional manuscripts that deserved to be bound for today and forever.
And then the SDHSP published Pioneer Girl, the brutally honest 1930 autobiography of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Nancy optimistically ordered 15,000 copies. And they sold. She ordered again. And then again. Seventy-five thousand to date, and now Pioneer Girl is showing up on “best seller” lists.
Maybe the internet and e-books will eventually kill book publishing. But you know what Harry Truman proved about conventional wisdom. And the 1987 Minnesota Twins. And so on.
Success is always nice, but it’s especially beautiful when it happens to nice people like Nancy Koupal and her band of book publishers in the little city of Pierre.