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Peace for Wounded Warriors

Mar 27, 2014

Pat Baird had houseguests during the 2011 Black Hills Stock Show when she became sick with the flu. “My husband got the company out of the house for the day and I went to bed. Around midafternoon I came downstairs and looked at my computer,” Baird remembers. “There was an email that said, ‘Watch the Oprah Show today. There’s a young couple from South Dakota who will be on. The husband was severely injured in the war.’” Baird checked the clock. The show started in 1 minute so she pushed record and went back to bed. A few days later they watched the episode featuring Yankton’s Corey Briest, a soldier gravely wounded while serving in Iraq. “Heart strings were tugged and we said, ‘Wow. We’ve got to do something,’” Baird says.

The couple, both retired military, soon founded Operation Black Hills Cabin. The non-profit organization provides a free, or nearly free, weeklong vacation to qualifying combat-wounded Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their families. OBHC hosted its first family June 2011 in a borrowed cabin, but coordinating donated time-shares was difficult. An OBHC board member suggested purchasing a Governor’s House after the city of Custer donated land on the edge of town.

“It took us six months to order the house because we were so scared of this huge bill,” Baird says. But the group fundraised enough to dissuade fears and ordered a three-bedroom house built by prisoners at Springfield’s Mike Durfee State Prison. “They don’t even build the three-bedroom house anymore, but they did that just for us,” says Ione Fejfar, a board member also from Custer. “Then they contacted all of their normal suppliers and said, ‘This is what we’re doing. Can you help us?’”

Many businesses were inspired by their mission and donated upgrades like a fireplace, sprinkler system, vaulted ceilings and air conditioning. Patriot Guard Riders escorted the 1,200-square-foot, handicapped accessible home to Custer in March 2013.

Board members expected to write a large check upon arrival but found they owed nothing. “The house was granted to us by the governor through the South Dakota Housing Authority,” says Carol Johnson, a board member who helps remotely from Watertown. “Then the furniture was donated and then the window treatments were donated. It’s incredible how anybody who hears about the cabin is inspired by it. It really is South Dakota’s thank you gift to our wounded veterans.”

Contributions have come from across the state for upkeep, insurance, taxes and snacks for each family. Local quilters provide a Quilt of Valor and Black Hills attractions donate free admission and meals. But guests don’t have to sight-see. They can just relax, Baird says. “We had a quadriplegic from New Orleans come up. He said that as he was sitting on the deck and listening to the pine trees that this was the first time he had peace since he came back from the war.”

The most recent donation is the Healing Hike planned by volunteers from Ellsworth Air Force Base and the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Veterans Club. They’ll build a path behind the cabin this spring with inspirational messages, a wheelchair accessible picnic table and benches.  

And remember that email Baird received telling her to watch the Oprah Winfrey Show? Baird couldn’t remember who sent it, so she went back to check and couldn’t find it. “There was no email,” Baird says. “Everything with this project has fallen into place like that.”

Update 07/31/15: Operation Black Hills Cabin welcomed its first South Dakota family in June. Jason Meyer, an Iraq War veteran, visited the cabin with his wife Amanda and their two daughers. The organization hopes to serve more South Dakota families in the near future.

Operation Black Hills Cabin is open May 1 through September 30. For more information or to download an application for consideration, visit

Update 07/31/15: Operation Black Hills Cabin welcomed its first South Dakota family in June. Jason Meyer, an Iraq War veteran, visited the cabin with his wife Amanda and their two daughers. The organization hopes to serve more South Dakota families in the near future.             


07:09 am - Mon, November 16 2015
Kathye Fouberg said:
My husband, daughter and myself usually make a $100 donation for a cause close to home rather than buy each other something for Christmas. Would this be something we could do to help continue your work with the Wounded Warriors? I know it isn't much, but perhaps it would help with some supplies?

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