Editor's Notebook

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.

Do You Remember Opening Day?

October 11, 2012


Anyone who has lived in a small South Dakota town has experienced the flurry of excitement generated on Opening Day of the pheasant hunting season. Sportsmen and sportswomen hurry from store to store, gathering licenses, shotgun shells, sweet rolls and orange caps — all required gear these days if you are to successfully pursue the wily ringneck.

It's the same in almost every town, varied only by the weather — cold drinks for warm autumn afternoons and coffee or hot chocolate for the gray, brisk days.

When my brothers and I were growing up on a Utica farm, Opening Day seemed festive because dad took off work to guide our city uncles who came to hunt. Any day that dad wasn't on a tractor in spring, summer or fall was like a holiday and good reason to celebrate. Since no one had a hunting dog, we got to tag along to beat the bushes, find the downed birds and then carry them. Why did that seem like fun?

When we were old enough, we'd hurry home from school during hunting season to change into some clothes that didn't matter if they got "stick-tight" on them, then grab a 20 gauge and head for the nearest cornfield.

Those were the days when shells were cheap and pheasants plentiful. I could take a box of shells out and shoot all 25 of them — sometimes all at the same pheasant — in an hour or two.

We had a sharpshooter in the family. Dave had a double barrel 12 gauge, and could generally get his three-bird limit without leaving the end rows. Maybe that's why he was county sheriff for 32 years and I'm still trying to hit the right key on my laptop?


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Winner! Whereizzit in South Dakota?


Think you know the location of this numbered tree? Leave a comment with your guess. On October 1, we will randomly select a winner from the correct guesses. The winner receives a collection of South Dakota Magazine products.



WE HAVE A WINNER!

Congratulations to Lynn Lundquist, our September Whereizzit Contest winner! We drew Lynn's name from the list of folks who correctly guessed that this tree marks Trail #9, which runs to and from Harney Peak. 

Thanks to everyone who guessed this time. Watch for another contest in the November/December issue of South Dakota Magazine!


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We Weren't First?

August 22, 2012


We started publishing this magazine before several of our staff members went to school, so it's getting old — especially by South Dakota publishing standards.

Lots of magazines have come and gone. The earliest we've tracked was started by the legendary historian Doane Robinson right here in Yankton in 1898. He called it the Monthly South Dakotan. It lasted for eight years.

We have single copies of many other attempts. There was a Dacotah Magazine that began in Watertown shortly after Robinson's Monthly failed. The state Chamber of Commerce tried a Sunshine Magazine in the 1920s.

Another startup failed shortly before we started in 1985. As I recall, the advertising sales director went to prison on a murder charge.

South Dakota isn't the easist place to publish a magazine, but it has been fertile ground for us. Our advertising directors have stayed out of jail and our writers and photographers have shown great passion for the art of publishing a prairie and mountain magazine.

We are constantly on the lookout for other publishing brethren who may have preceded us, and today a reader sent us this image of a front cover of a publication. My guess is that it is a state agriculture department yearbook from the 1920s, but we would welcome any further input.

We would also be interested in identifying the pretty young model on the cover. Any leads?


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Fantle's: The Big Store

August 14, 2012


Everybody loves America's sweet downtowns. We love them in a Norman Rockwell way. They remind us that we once had the time and inclination to don a hat and jacket and stroll around, store to store, visiting neighbors and meeting newcomers.

Some of South Dakota's downtowns are in a revival stage. Mobridge, pop. 3,500 or so, has an amazing Main Street, complete with a movie theater, clothing stores, a top-notch eatery painted purple, an excellent library and other amenities. Rapid City's downtown was once considered off-limits to families after 5 p.m., but now it echoes with the laughter of children thanks to a visionary Main Street Square that attracts families and more than a dozen new shops that feature toys, outdoor gear, local foods, Native American art and even an English pub with appropriately-attired waitresses.

So downtowns aren't dead in South Dakota. And the funny thing is that the come-back cities are doing what the Fantle/Levinger family did a century ago. They make shopping fun.

The Fantle family came to Yankton in 1893 and opened what was then called "The Big Store." They suffered fires and setbacks, but they persevered well into the Wal-mart age because they loved their community and it showed.

In the 1930s, when nobody had any money, they served a two-cent lunch so nobody went hungry. They also featured 97-cent women's frocks.

They held Watermelon Days every summer. One year, they served 2,780 melons so Harold Levinger (who married a Fantle) figured 27,800 people showed up because he got 10 slices to the melon. I don't think he accounted for the kids who ate three or four slices each, but 27,800 sounded great at the Chamber of Commerce.

The Levingers and Fantles had a cafeteria, a stylish beauty salon, a big children's store and the first elevator to carry people between Sioux City and Sioux Falls.

And they had a monkey. Everybody remembers the monkey. Every farm kid who came to Yankton wanted to stop by Fantle's to pet the monkey.

Here's another thing the Fantles and Levingers did: every time their city needed something, they were among the first to put up cash. Other families were equally supportive — certainly the Danforths, who owned the bank and a lot of downtown property, and of course the Gurneys who had the nursery. The Danforths, Fantles and Gurneys each put up $25,000 cash in 1921 to construct the Meridian Bridge because local leaders had grown tired of waiting for the state of South Dakota to build one. That same bridge is the city's newest tourist attraction today, because it has been transformed into a pedestrian/biking trail.

After WWII, the Fantles gave 40 acres on the north edge of the city for a park. They did list some caveats. It had to have a pool for children, and it had to include a memorial to the soldiers who died in war. The park is a beloved place to Yanktonians today.

Many smaller retailers in the city also were generous with their time and money. And the employees of today's chain retailers and box stores that have followed — some might say supplanted — the Fantles and the smaller mom-and-pop stores — surely try to contribute. Some have become important civic leaders.

But a town needs the likes of the Fantles, Levingers, Danforths and Gurneys to really grow. That's as true today as it was in 1893. Rapid City and Mobridge have them. So does every other town in South Dakota.


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45,000 THANKS

August 7, 2012


We love every one of our readers. The dozen of us (or so) who get to produce and publish South Dakota Magazine are ever grateful for the readers who really make our explorations possible.

And the magazine has steadily gained readers throughout our 27-year history. Today we hit a new milestone — 45,000 paid subscribers!

The magazine industry and our very own surveys indicate that about 4 people read each residential subscription, so the 45,000 subscribers translate to about 180,000 readers.

We never imagined that amout of readership when we published the first issue in the spring of 1985. And for that matter, when we hit 25,000 ... 30,000 ... 35,000 ... 40,000 .... we never imagined 45,000.

It's a credit to our fine staff, the best that any publisher could ask for. And credit largely goes to our big and beautiful state. It's not hard to find adventurous, exciting, heartfelt and heroic stories of life in South Dakota.

At midday today, our circulation chief Jana Lane entered the 45,000th subscriber. She is Joyce Gerberding of Goodwin, and she will get the magazine as a gift from Judy Kranz of Watertown.

When we started the magazine in 1985 we badly needed 200 subscribers so we could qualify for a second class USPS permit, so we knocked on doors and begged for checks from friends and relatives. Every subscription was a step toward our dream of showing South Dakota on paper with stories and photos.

One of the interesting things about still publishing the magazine 27 years later is that our 45,000th subscription is as rewarding as the first 200. Readers make the magazine what it is today. So thanks, Judy. We hope Joyce enjoys the magazine as much as we appreciate the opportunity to practice journalism in South Dakota.


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Winner! Whereizzit in South Dakota?


Think you know where this historic building is located? Leave a comment with your guess. On August 1, we will randomly select a winner from the correct guesses. The winner receives a collection of South Dakota Magazine products.



We Have a Winner!


We have a winner in our July Whereizzit contest! We drew Colleen Schulte's name from the pool of people who knew that this structure can be spotted in Geddes, South Dakota. In former days, it was a WNAX gas station, but now it's part of Geddes' historic village. 

Thanks for your guesses, everyone! 


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Mystery Photo No More

July 24, 2012


Update — the mystery has been solved!

Lots of you guessed that this was the Odd Fellows Home in Dell Rapids. We just spoke with Joan Rasmusson, owner of the former orphanage and nursing home, who verified it for us. She's in the midst of renovating the beautiful, historic structure. The old laundry equipment area has been converted into condos, and more improvements are planned. Not many of the structures pictured lasted throughout the years, but Joan mentioned that the apple orchard is still there.

Joan's no stranger to the renovation process. She was involved with restoring the Grand Opera House, a gorgeous 1888 theater in the Romanesque Revival style that is hosting plays, concerts and other events once again. She informed us that other Dell Rapids structures are being fixed up. That's exciting news for the northern Minnehaha County gem. 


 We recently unearthed a photographic mystery here at South Dakota Magazine. Back in 2001, Pat and Rose Mary Trask of Wasta, South Dakota sent us this picture, along with a plea for help:

Our community service club, (WTL for "Willing to Learn" — not "Women Tell Lies" — Club) was painting and cleaning our Elm Springs Community Hall when we found the enclosed historic photo. None of us knew what building this was so we hope you can help us identify it.

We didn't recognize this scene then and we don't now. Do you? The back of the photo is blank, but "Don Hoskins / Huron" is printed in white on the front. That's the only clue we can offer. 


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A Cool Collection

July 6, 2012


Scenes from Platte's past are now available for online viewing, thanks to the South Dakota State Historical Society. They partnered with the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve and share short silent films by Lawrence H. Cool, a Platte resident in the 1930s. The snippets of Charles Mix County activity include a visit from Governor William J. Bulow, the construction of the Lake Platte spillway and a parade through town. (If the float banners are to believed, Geddes was in big trouble.)

View these slices of life at the South Dakota Digital Archives


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Discovered: A Missing Governor

June 26, 2012


Governors come and go. We don't pay a lot of attention to them when they're gone, and that's especially true of John Pennington, the fifth governor of Dakota Territory.

But he deserves better treatment.

Pennington wasn't perfect, but he should be judged and remembered in the perspective of his era.

He was an Alabama newspaperman during the Civil War. When he realized that it wasn't going to end well for his beloved South, he began to suggest editorially that perhaps peace wouldn't be a bad thing. That infuriated many of his readers. I've heard second-hand that even some of his own descendants are still embarrassed by his writings.

But Ulysses S. Grant liked the editorials, and he rewarded Pennington in 1874 by appointing him Governor of Dakota Territory. The 45-year-old journalist arrived in the young riverside capital city of Yankton, anxious to help create a new civilization on the prairie. Those were exciting times. Railroads were developing at break-neck speeds. Gold was waiting to be mined in the Black Hills. Homesteaders were flocking to the countryside and new towns were springing up everywhere.

Unfortunately, a "Yankton Gang" was already entrenched in the city and Pennington became part of their shenanigans. For example, Pennington County was created — named after the new governor — and Yankton officials were appointed to the county offices under the theory that the Black Hills crowd was still too raw to run a fair election. Some of the county officials didn't even travel West ot serve; they just named deputies to do the work.

But Pennington loved Dakota. In fact, he argued against dividing it into two states. He tried to create some fairness for the Native Americans, argued on behalf of farmers in fights against the railroads and initiated an aggressive anti-grasshopper program (if you think that sounds silly, think how popular it is to fight pine beetles today.)

And he loved Yankton. He built a modest mansion at 3rd & Pearl (now the home of South Dakota Magazine for the past 27 years) and several other houses and structures. He was reappointed governor in 1876 — a rare occurrence because most governors quickly grew unpopular — and after leaving the post in 1878 he continued to live in the city, even resuming his journalism career in 1885 with a weekly newspaper. His wife died in Yankton, and Pennington eventually returned to Alabama as an old man.

That was the end of the story as we knew it until this month when Gary Conradi, a retired Sioux Falls businessman and avid historian, stopped by our offices. Conradi is collecting information and photographs on all of Dakota's governors. All of the territorial governors (and many of the state's early governors) are buried out-of-state.

Conradi searched long and hard for Pennington's grave, and finally discovered it in Oxford, Alabama, a town very near to Anniston. He couldn't find anyone who would admit to being Pennington's relative but he did bring back pictures of the modest gravesite. There is no mention or marking of his service to Dakota Territory or South Dakota.

Pennington County old-timers are probably pleased about that.


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Jerauld County's Big Gun

June 22, 2012


No one knows why or when Wessington Springs’ cannon arrived in South Dakota from its birthplace at the Watervalet Arsenal in New York, or if it ever saw action in wartime. But over the years, the 114-year-old weapon has become an important symbol of military service by Jerauld County veterans. Recently, the Wessington Springs True Dakotan announced that residents had restored the cannon to its original glory, using local time and talent. 

“The American Legion talked Brian Van Buren of Wessington Springs into doing the metal restoration that included disassembly, sand blasting, cleaning, painting and reassembly. Hub Kieser’s -81 Enterprises, on the north side of Wessington Springs, offered their facility for the restoration project. Fred Knight donated sand, Jason Weber donated the use of a sand blaster, South Dakota Wheat Growers provided an appropriate air compressor,” wrote the True Dakotan. They hired expert wheelwrights Hansen Wheel and Wagon of Letcher to built new wheels. The total cost of restoration was about $5,000.

The 829 lb. weapon now stands guard in front of the Jerauld County Courthouse as part of the Wessington Springs Veterans Memorial, where it will honor South Dakota veterans for many years to come.


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All Good Things Must End

June 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.


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Winner! Whereizzit in South Dakota?


Do you recognize this spot? If you think you know the location, leave a comment below with your guess. 

On June 1, we will randomly select a winner from the correct answers. The winner will receive a collection of South Dakota Magazine products and a 16"x20" print of his/her choice from photographer Dave Tunge of Dakota Aerials



WE HAVE A WINNER!

A lot of you recognized this spot — it's the Spirit of the Circle monument located near Big Bend Dam and Fort Thompson. Sadly, there can only be one winner, so we drew a name at random from the correct answers. Rick Crocker was the lucky one chosen. Congratulations, Rick!

Thanks for playing, everyone. Watch for our next Whereizzit contest in the July/August issue of South Dakota Magazine.


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Remembering the Flood

June 4, 2012


Unanswerable cries for help, narrow escapes and the raging, ice-cold waters of Rapid Creek sweeping away everything in its path — no one who lived in Rapid City in 1972 will ever forget the horrors of June 9, when 238 people lost their lives in South Dakota’s greatest natural tragedy. On the 40th anniversary of the flood, Rapid Citians are remembering the disaster with theater performances, a pow wow, art exhibits, photos and, most importantly, stories. We featured some of those stories in our May/June issue, but former Rapid City mayor Don Barnett had more to share in a recent interview with South Dakota Magazine publisher Bernie Hunhoff and Grant Peterson of Brookings Radio. Click below to hear their three-part conversation.

 


Grant and Don Barnett continued their conversation on May 22, 2012. Rapid Citians Dean Reichart and Larry Lytle joined in to share their memories of the flood. 



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King of the Prairie Waters

May 18, 2012


Noted historian George Kingsbury lumped farm immigration, gold discoveries and — yes, believe it or not — catfish as three important factors to the settlement of Dakota.

In his book History of Dakota Territory (Vol. 1, p. 165), Kingsbury wrote, "in the opinion of many of the early settlers the food problem would have been a very serious one had it not been for the abundant supply of this best of all fishes right at the threshhold of the settlements."

Kingsbury noted that catfish was somewhat out of favor at the time he wrote the book (about 1915). "It is occassionally remarked in these later times that the people of Dakota are not acquainted with the edible merits of this excellent fish, but send to eastern and western markets for an inferior article, while they have such an inexhaustible supply here at home."

Immigrants to South Dakota make the same discovery today, according to a story in our May/June 2012 issue in which we feature Ukraine-born Nata Jones, who came to Yankton and enthusiastically took to catching and grilling Missouri River catfish.

Nata married a local fellow and instantly appreciated the smalltown atmosphere in Yankton. She hailed from Chernivtsi, a city of 240,000. "Everybody is so friendly and smiling. You don't need to worry about nothing," she told us in a delightful Euroopean accent. "If something happened, everybody would help me."

And the catfish? "I fished in the Ukraine, too, but this is a little bit different here." She and her husband, Brad, use stink bait to lure the whiskered bottom feeders so famous for their ability to smell.

South Dakota has Blue Catfish, Channel Cats and Flatheads. All can grow to immense proportions, but today's intensive fishing — and perhaps the damming of the Missouri — might be resulting in fewer giant cats. The record Blue was a 97-pounder caught in 1959 and the biggest Channel was a 55-pounder caught way back in 1949.

However, Davin Holland of Tabor caught the state record Flathead (63.5 lbs.) just six years ago in the James River near Yankton. Cats are found in rivers, lakes and ponds across our state.

"For scores of years, the early traders subsisted almost exclusively on a diet of buffalo and catfish," wrote Kingsbury a century ago.

Throw in a few tomatoes, morel mushrooms and wild asparagus and it doesn't sound like a bad way to eat in South Dakota.


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Can Fishermen Be Trusted?

April 25, 2012


I stopped at Gramp's, a favorite hangout for hunters and fishermen in Yankton. It's a convenience store with homemade soup, real black coffee, sinful cookies and Dimock cheese.

I was on a second cup of coffee when Larry, the proprietor's husband, came by to ask about some new law or rule from Game, Fish and Parks that says he can no longer net minnows for bait in the Missouri River.

GF&P is notoriously powerful in South Dakota, but any new rules must be approved by the legislature's Rules Committee so I contacted two buddies on the committee. Yes, they said, there is such a rule. Nobody opposed its adoption so it sailed through.

Soon after my inquiry, some of the top brass at GF&P emailed me to explain the department's position. News travels quickly in South Dakota. Naturally, it has to do with the spread of Asian Carp. Gavins Point Dam in Yankton is the last defense against this dreaded species' emergence into the Upper Missouri. The carp are a big menace to boaters and anglers downriver, and GF&P will go to any lengths to keep them out of Lewis and Clark Lake and the other lakes to the north.

The worry is that fishermen will seine minnows in the Missouri, the Big Sioux or the James and then use the same minnow bucket as they travel northward up the Missouri. They might eventually dump the minnows in a reservoir and, voila, the Asian Carp will have arrived.

Thus the new rule. But of course the new rule, to be effective, will require education. Families have been netting minnows for bait in this Dakota Country long before GF&P existed. It is a tradition, a time-honored practice that seemed ecologically friendly for generations.

To stop people from doing so will take time. Wouldn't it be just as easy to demand that anyone who nets minnows must release those minnows the same day in the same spot?

Nobody is on the side of the Asian Carp, but rules have to be realistic and sensible. Let's have a discussion — is there a better way for GF&P to proceed?


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Meat or Vegetables?

April 12, 2012


This picture has been floating around our magazine office for years. It shows early-day Watertown area hunters with their bounty from a 35-minute hunt. I like the photo because it illustrates the outdoor heritage that we all love. But it hardly speaks to sustainability. Fortunately, we've established some common sense limits on hunting and fishing in the decades since and sportsmen now fully support those limits and restrictions.

Dakota Dunes meat-packer BPI became embroiled in a national debate over food labeling this month. Five or six governors rushed to defend the beef product, along with national agriculture leaders. But even as the governors were chomping on burgers at the press conference, they and everybody watching must have been wondering where this is likely to lead.

Americans once were a lot closer to their food and their food processors. Most of us grew up in families that either butchered on the farm or bought beef, pork and poultry from a little grocery store with a butcher in the back.

But food production and processing has been consolidated, and we might actually need to start educating children on where milk and eggs and hot dogs come from. There's a bill in the Nebraska legislature this year to mandate such schooling.

Meanwhile, more and more people are becoming vegetarians or variations thereof. I was having lunch with a few young people from Sioux Falls last week when one gentleman explained that he was no longer eating meat. So he ordered a salad special. It came, to his surprise, with grilled chicken. He did a double-take, and then decided he could eat it. He's only been a vegetarian for a week, so what the heck.

He represents American. Conflicted. Curious. Rooted in a nation rich in farm, fishing and filet mignon. But thinking that some changes lie ahead.

He's re-thinking what he eats, along with many of his generation. It would be a monumental mistake for our farm state to ignore the issue and pretend that everyone will still want to eat hamburgers and hot dogs in 2050. Or that they'll faithfully eat whatever the food processors churn out.

Anyone interested in having this converstaion may want to hear Dr. James McWilliams, associate professor of history at Texas State University and author of the award-winning book Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. He will speak on “Animals, Plants and Food: Eating Sustainably in the Twenty-First Century (and Beyond)” at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 14, in Augustana's Gilbert Science Center Auditorium, room 100. The event is free and open to the public.

According to an Augustana College media release, McWilliams’ talk will explore the idea that the primary problem with “sustainable agriculture” and “the food movement” is our failure to come to terms with the economic, environmental and ethical dimensions of animal production and consumption. The only way food can be sustainable in a world of more than 7 billion people, he argues, is to do something as radical as it is common-sensical: Grow plants for people.
 
“One of the things sorely lacking in our public discourse is the ability to weigh the pros and cons of an issue,” McWilliams says. “Instead, arguments about anything take on a kind of religious fervor. So when I see conventional wisdom forming around an idea, I like to poke holes in it. I think any idea with legitimacy is going to withstand having holes poked in it and will actually be stronger as a result.”

Farmers know better than anyone that change is the only sure thing. Food and eating habits are going to change dramatically in a generation or two — for a variety of reasons — and nothing will change that.


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The Cadillac Caper

April 4, 2012


We had a good laugh after reading a story in the March 27 edition of the Wessington Springs True Dakotan. They learned about the incident in the Plankinton South Dakota Mail, and now we’re retelling the tale to you.

It’s said that criminals often return to the scene of their crime. That was true on March 9th, when the Aurora County Courthouse in Plankinton was the scene of a brazen daytime theft. Larry Unruh had parked his red Cadillac out front while he took care of some official business inside. When he left the building, the Cadillac had disappeared. 

Luckily, Deputy Preston Crissey was on the scene. He sprang into action, running upstairs to the Sheriff’s Office to issue a stolen car bulletin and alert the Highway Patrol, then back out to patrol the streets of Plankinton and track down the culprit.

Mr. Unruh headed up to the Sheriff’s Office to make a report of his own. When questioned by Sheriff David Fink, Unruh reported that the vehicle was full of gas and his girlfriend’s purse was inside, full of money.

“While the investigation continued, Sheriff Fink looked out the courthouse window to the north and surprisingly saw a vehicle fitting that description traveling east very slowly on Fifth Street,” read the South Dakota Mail report. 

Unruh looked out the window. Yes, it was the missing Cadillac…and it was pulling back in to the courthouse parking lot. The two men went into the Clerk of Courts office to get a better view from their window.

Two figures got out of the pilfered Caddy. The getaway driver was a young high school girl. Her passenger was a man with a clipboard — driver’s license examiner Dale Steffen. 

“According to Sheriff Fink, the young girl’s parents dropped her off for her driver’s test and drove away. Not knowing this, Mr. Steffen believed that was the family’s vehicle, while the nervous young driver assumed it was the test vehicle.” 

“Mr. Unruh told Sheriff Fink, ‘I’m not pressing charges!’” said the Mail

We hope that the teasing has died down in Plankinton for all parties involved. Thanks to the South Dakota Mail and the Wessington Springs True Dakotan for sharing the story.


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A Sioux Falls Bias?

March 30, 2012


Do rural South Dakotans have an “us agin’ them” attitude about Sioux Falls? Or does paranoia plague people in cities large and small?

The issue arose last weekend when the Sioux Falls Argus Leader published a lengthy article related to negative reactions from the South Dakota High School Activities Association about moving more state tournaments to the soon-to-be-built events center in Sioux Falls. The paper’s editorial began like this:

We’re still in an us vs. them mode in South Dakota. Sioux Falls vs. everyone else. East of the river vs. west. Big vs. little. City vs. country. Perceived winners vs. losers. Reminders of this pop up in some unusual places sometimes, and it is hard not to wonder whether those attitudes hold us back from our potential as a state.

The Argus raises a legitimate question. And if the editors feel that way, then I’m glad they expressed themselves.

But we just don’t see a Sioux Falls bias in our extensive travels from border to border. And that’s because Sioux Falls leaders and citizens haven’t been pushy. They haven’t been bullies or braggarts.

The Sioux Falls metro area now has about 230,000 people, nearly 30% of South Dakota’s total population. But the city hasn’t pushed its weight around either the state or the region. Like a wealthy and kindly uncle, it’s just nice to have around. It hasn’t overwhelmed the state politically or commercially.

Usually the metro citizenry votes much the same as the rural population. Sioux Falls lawmakers are gaining strength in the state capitol due to the city’s growth, but they haven’t visibly formed any sort of metro caucus, formally or informally. And many if not most of them have roots in smaller towns and cities.

Sioux Falls has an excellent education system, but the city also hasn’t dominated in that department because the two biggest public universities are an hour’s drive north and south.

Culturally, the city isn’t the epicenter of prairie life, either. It has too much concrete, too many lights, too much neon. South Dakota’s culture is rooted in the bawdy Black Hills, the displaced Lakota and Dakota Indians, the struggling farmer and rancher and the dwindling small towns. We write poems and songs about adversity and hard times. Sioux Falls doesn’t seem to inspire those popular South Dakota themes.

Economically, Sioux Falls is crucial to South Dakota. It has become the city of opportunity for thousands of young people who couldn’t find a good job in the small towns were they were born and raised. Their parents are glad they didn’t have to go further from home to be successful. But again, Sioux Falls doesn’t rule the state. We don’t all cash checks at branches of Sioux Falls banks. We don’t all eat at restaurants created and based in Sioux Falls. From a business standpoint, the city is important and supportive but not all-powerful.

Sioux Falls has a colorful history, but it lacks the characters that forever will link Yankton and Deadwood and Fort Pierre with the Old West. Sioux Falls didn’t build its reputation on shootings and hangings. In the early years, its leaders tended to business and grew a city on the prairie.

Claiming bias is an easy excuse for not getting your way on any particular issue. Democrats and Libertarians seldom get their way. Conservationists and sportsmen sometimes feel ignored. Farmers believe they are overtaxed and underappreciated. Women didn’t even get to vote until 1918, and our Native American neighbors don’t always feel like they get a fair shake.

There are pros and cons to playing all our basketball tournaments in one city. The debate shouldn’t be short-circuited by a “nobody likes me” excuse because l) it’s not true and 2) even if it was true, it wouldn’t be very effective in our rugged, fight-for-yourself culture.


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Black Elk Was Right

March 23, 2012


Our writers and photographers have constantly visited South Dakota's nine Indian reservations throughout our 27 years of publishing. While poverty and other problems obviously plague many — yes, most — of the rural communities, considerable progress has been made in this last generation.

Black Elk, the Lakota holy man, predicted long ago that his people would find new hope in the seventh generation. If his starting point was the arrival of the white man in the mid 19th century, the seventh generation is about at hand — and there is much reason for hope.
 
In our own travels, we've met many new tribal leaders who seem quite determined to make life better. And in the state capitol in Pierre, a dark-skinned attorney named J.R. LaPlante has been appointed Secretary of Tribal Relations and Governor Dennis Daugaard has asked J.R. to help him and his staff understand the Indian culture and to help them find solutions to lingering problems.
 
The biggest change we've witnessed on the rez in our one generation of publishing is the development of the tribal colleges. They have brought jobs, role models and opportunities that simply didn't exist. Now, well-educated young Indians have a venue for service and leadership.
 
Despite the best efforts on our public and private universities, Lakota and Dakota students struggled to graduate in Vermillion and Brookings and Spearfish and the other campuses. In the neighborhood tribal schools, they learn to become nurses, teachers, entrepreneurs and administrators — and once they graduate they fill job needs in the local schools and health care facilities.
 
The tribal colleges were founded in buildings that would have been condemned on most university campuses. But as they proved their worth — and thanks, obviously, to federal dollars — the schools have constructed innovative and inspiring buildings that would be the envy of any college president. We particularly like some of the new structures at Sinte Gleska on the Rosebud campus. In the northeast, the Sisseton Wahpeton College campus features the architecture of a drum and dancers.
 
We've watched boys at Red Cloud learn to run and shoot with a basketball, and we've watched young girls dance in fancy regalia at pow wows. Our next issue of South Dakota Magazine has a major article by Herbert T. Hoover, the distinguished historian from USD, on how the tribes kept their old traditions alive while accepting new ways, like basketball.
 
But perhaps the best gauge for Black Elk's prediction of hope for the seventh generation lies in a statistic reported today by Chris Mueller of the Mitchell Daily Republic. He notes that the average life expectancy in Shannon County (on the Pine Ridge reservation) has risen from 58 to 71 years in just the last 10 years. Though the state average is 77, the progress shown in just 10 years in one of America's poorest counties is notable.
 
Nobody ever doubted the wisdom of Black Elk. His prophecy is coming true, but only because leaders — especially Indian leaders — persistently work for improvements despite negativity and naysaying both on and off the rez. 

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Humbly Fourth in the USA

March 16, 2012




South Dakota Magazine and the Chicago Tribune have almost nothing in common. The Tribune is owned by billionaire Sam Zell. It was in bankruptcy a few years ago. It is the eighth largest newspaper in the USA. The Trib once owned the Chicago Cubs but not any longer.

South Dakota Magazine is owned by a thousandaire.  We aren't rich but neither are we in bankruptcy. We are the largest magazine in South Dakota. Several of our staffers are Cubs fans.

And here's another difference. Public Policy Polling recently published a poll that shows how Americans like or dislike the 50 states. The best-liked states in order are Hawaii, Colorado, Tennessee and, naturally, South Dakota. Sadly, Illinois ranked 47th.

So the Chicago Tribune editors cranked up their poison press and trashed South Dakota. They concluded, "With no ill will to South Dakota, we have to ask. Seriously?"

The Chicago editors said they could understand Hawaii's high ranking because of its beaches. They appreciated Colorado because of its mountains. And even Tennessee, they granted, had a music culture. But South Dakota? "Seriously?"

Obviously, they've never been to South Dakota — Land of about 5,000 natural lakes and some of the most amazing and diverse rivers and reservoirs in the world. And we've got mountains, we just humbly call them "the Hills." As for music, I've seen and heard quite a few of those Nashville folks here in the state. One of our state's greatest singer/songwriters was Kyle Evans, a Wessington Springs cowboy who spent some time in Nashville but was too homesick to stay. When he got home he wrote a song that goes like this:

I'm in heaven on a horse on the
Wild open prairies of Dakota
Where life sings me a melody and
My heart sings in harmony
My troubles never been so few before.

Yes, we've got a pretty amazing country music community of our own. The Poker Alice Band is my personal favorite. Tomorrow night I'm going to Mac's Pub in Volin to hear Mike McDonald sing some ballads. Mike is a retired South Dakota postmaster and an amazing singer. A few years ago, the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls brought an Irish band to South Dakota for St. Paddy's Day and they asked Mike to do the warm-up. He sang his Irish heart out and the crowd went wild. I think many of them thought he was the main act. I never felt so sorry for anyone as I did for the poor Irishmen who had to follow Mike that night. Unlike beaches and mountains, good music is everywhere. Some great musicians just don't have agents.

So unlike the Chicagoans, we're not shocked that South Dakota ranked fourth. Americans are smart people. I'm a little surprised that Illinois ranked 47th because I don't see anything wrong with the Land of Lincoln. Certainly the Cubs have taught the state some humility. And, hey, not everybody can be fourth.

Jim Hagen, South Dakota's Secretary of Tourism, also took umbrage with the Chicago Tribune editorial and sent the newspaper a properly humble but corrective letter that you might also find interesting. 

See you at the beach. Or the Hills. Or at Mac's.


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