Share |
Hot Springs has long provided a welcoming haven for our nation's veterans.
Hot Springs has long provided a welcoming haven for our nation's veterans.
Army veteran Joan Noble (pictured with her husband Dan) will be one of the veterans honored at Hot Springs' 'Holiday Tree to Remember' event.
Army veteran Joan Noble (pictured with her husband Dan) will be one of the veterans honored at Hot Springs' "Holiday Tree to Remember" event.

Warm Water, Warm Hearts

Dec 7, 2020

One of the most beautiful evenings of the South Dakota holiday season comes Tuesday (Dec. 8) at Hot Springs, a city with a 131-year legacy of caring for the veterans of South Dakota. That’s when the local Stillwater Hospice (112 S. Chicago) welcomes family and friends of deceased veterans for its annual Holiday Tree to Remember program, beginning at 5 pm. 

Dawn Hurney, Stillwater’s director of clinical services, says attendees are welcomed at the door and offered an ornament to hang on a tree in honor of their loved one. “We have a signup sheet at the front where they can write the names of their veteran. This can be someone who died in the past year, or who died many years ago. As the program gets underway we will read the names, and if they wish they can talk a little about the loved one they lost. It’s a beautiful time. It never ceases to amaze me how touching it is." Hurney says the program is not limited to families of hospice patients.

Hot Springs has a rich history of caring for soldiers and veterans. In 1889, the very year that South Dakota gained statehood, the legislature established a Soldier’s Home there, partly because the city’s natural warm-water springs had already gained a reputation for health and rejuvenation. A few years later, the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers began to send Civil War veterans to Hot Springs. The care was so well-received — both the waters and the people there — that President Teddy Roosevelt signed a bill to establish a federal veteran’s hospital that was originally called Battle Mountain Sanatorium.

Today the state’s nursing home is thriving. It’s now called the Michael J. Fitzmaurice South Dakota Veterans Home. The federal sanitarium grew to become the Veterans Administration Black Hills Health Care System. Hot Springs’  healing history has won it a nickname as “The Veterans’ Town,” and now attracts tourists who appreciate the patriotic mission of the community’s citizenry.

In recent years, federal officials were making plans to close the federal hospital. A “Save the VA” group organized to prevent the closure, and last September the Veterans Administration announced that it would remain open.

Warm spring waters was the first attraction for state and federal leaders who established health facilities in the Southern Hills city of 3,500. A warm-hearted culture has kept the nursing home and hospital open. Tuesday’s holiday tree service at the Stillwater Hospice is a holiday example of how the people of Hot Springs care for our veterans and their families.


01:03 pm - Mon, December 7 2020
Bernie Hunhoff said:
Some years ago, I witnessed an event at the State Nursing Home that I thought truly crystallized the culture of caring for the old vets.

I was on an "approrpriations" tour with other state legislators, and one of the lawmakers had it in his head that the nursing home had a discipline problem so he was badgering the director about whether or not there were guidelines about drinking and socializing.

"Yes," the director replied, "we don't really allow them to have alcohol here. But we do let them go downtown if they are able."

Apparently, the surly lawmaker had information about a particular resident who had caused a disturbance -- an old WWII vet who had later been a rodeo cowboy.

"Didn't you have a man who brought alcohol home and had a party just recently?" he asked the director.

"Yes, that's rare but it did happen?" he answered.

"And were there not women from downtown who were in his room as well."

"Yes, apparently a few ladies came back here with him," admitted the director.

"And when you searchd the room did you not find numerous bottles of booze?"

"Yes," the sheepish director admitted. He was now getting red-faced from the interrogation.

"And what I want to know is WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?" asked the lawmaker.

At this point, the flustered but honest director of the State Veterans Home said with total sincerity: "I guess I just don't know. Except I think I might ask the old boy for his secret!"

The entire room of legislators erupted with laughter. Now the up-tight lawmaker was without words, and we all enjoyed cookies and coffee.

05:34 am - Thu, December 10 2020
Ed Goss said:
Bernie that is a great story. Maybe you should come up with some of your legislative days stories. Say maybe once a week or once a month but I enjoyed this one.

Share your thoughts, post a comment to this story:

Your Name:
Your Email Address:  
Your Website:
2000 characters remaining
Web Design by Buildable