Trail of Governors selects class of 2018

This week, the Trail of Governors announced its class of 2018. Statues of William H. McMaster, M. Q. Sharpe and Ralph Herseth will be unveiled in June 2018 and thereafter placed on the Trail.

As of today, 15 statues are placed along the Trail, which runs from the Pierre business district to the State Capitol complex. Four more statues – Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss – were unveiled in June 2017 and will be placed this fall, once construction on Capitol Avenue is completed. Once the 2018 statues are placed, the Trail will include 22 statues, with 9 more to be completed by 2021.

Below are brief biographical sketches of McMaster, Sharpe and Herseth, which are adapted from the longer sketches on the Trail of Governors website:

10 William H. McMasterWilliam H. McMaster was South Dakota’s 10th governor, serving from 1921-25. He was born in Ticonic, Iowa in 1877 and was raised in Sioux City. McMaster came to Yankton County, South Dakota in 1901, where he went into banking. He was elected to the first of three terms as a state legislator in 1910, was elected lieutenant governor in 1916 in 1918, and was elected governor in 1920 and 1922, succeeding Peter Norbeck.

Governor McMaster, who led the state during the post-World War I farm crisis, was a progressive Republican and continued Norbeck’s progressive program. He memorably took on high retail gasoline prices by selling gasoline from state highway shops for 2 cents per gallon above wholesale cost, forcing retail prices down by as much as 10 cents a gallon – an incident South Dakota Magazine recalled in 2013.

Governor McMaster supported highway construction.  The first concrete state highway, connecting Sioux Falls to Dell Rapids, was built during his administration, as well as five Missouri River bridges, including the Meridian Bridge in Yankton.

Following his service as governor, McMaster was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he served alongside Norbeck. After the Great Depression struck, McMaster was defeated for reelection in 1930 by Governor W. J. Bulow. He moved to Dixon, Illinois, where he was president of a local bank. McMaster died in 1968 and was buried in Dixon.

Interest in McMaster has been revived recently thanks to efforts by Bernie Hunhoff to erect a South Dakota Historical Society Marker near the Meridian Bridge in Yankton to memorialize McMaster.

17 M. Q. SharpeM. Q. Sharpe was the 17th Governor of South Dakota, serving from 1943-47. Sharpe was born in Kansas and served in the U.S. Navy. He came to South Dakota in 1911 to attend USD, where he earned his law degree, and opened a legal practice in Lyman County and served as state’s attorney.

Sharpe was elected attorney general in 1928 and reelected in 1930. During his four years, he investigated embezzlement in the state banking department, as well as mismanagement of the Rural Credits state farm loan program. Despite that, Sharpe was defeated in the FDR Democratic landslide of 1932. He served as Governor Bushfield’s delegate to the Missouri River States Committee in the early 1940s, and helped negotiate the Pick-Sloan Plan to build Missouri River dams.

Sharpe was elected to succeed Bushfield in 1942. He had finished second in a four-way Republican primary, but because no candidate received 35%, the nomination was made at the State Republican Convention. Sharpe prevailed at the convention because his three opponents, all of whom served in the Bushfield administration, failed to coalesce around one candidate.

As governor, Sharpe continued his work to develop the Missouri River dams. Following World War II, he initiated an aggressive post-war building and development plan, founding the state park system, building a state office building, revitalizing the teacher pension fund, and creating the state police radio system. Sharpe also supported repeal of the state income tax.

Sharpe had been reelected in 1944 and in 1946, he sought an unprecedented third term as governor, losing the Republican primary to Attorney General George T. Mickelson. Sharpe returned to his Lyman County practice, and chaired Governor Herseth’s citizen tax study commission in 1959. He died of a heart attack at his home in Kennebec in 1962. Today, the capital city of Pierre is on the shores of Lake Sharpe, which was created by the Big Bend Dam and named in Governor Sharpe’s honor.

21 Ralph HersethRalph E. Herseth was South Dakota’s 21st governor, serving from 1959-61. He was born on his family’s farm near Houghton and spent his life operating the farm.  Herseth also was a businessman, operating a farm store in Hecla, and a leader in many community organizations.

A Democrat, Herseth was elected to the State Senate in 1950 and in 1954. In 1955, he became the first Senate Minority Leader. In 1956, Herseth challenged Governor Foss’ reelection campaign. Herseth did not defeat Governor Foss, but when Foss left office two years later, Herseth successfully sought the open seat, winning the office in 1958.

Governor Herseth established a state retirement system for teachers, proposed a conservancy law to promote water development projects, and created Fort Sisseton State Park. He named Native American artist Oscar Howe as the state’s first artist laureate.

In 1960, Herseth sought reelection, but was narrowly upset by Republican House Speaker Archie Gubbrud. Two years later, Herseth ran for governor one final time, unsuccessfully challenging Governor Gubbrud’s reelection. He is the only South Dakotan to be nominated for governor in four consecutive elections.

Herseth suffered a heart attack and died in 1969 at the age of 59. His family has continued to be active in South Dakota politics. Herseth’s widow, Lorna, served as South Dakota Secretary of State from 1973 to 1979. Herseth’s son, Lars, followed him to the State Legislature and was the Democratic nominee for governor in 1986, losing narrowly to George S. Mickelson, another son of a former governor. Herseth’s granddaughter, Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004, serving until 2011 and making her the first woman to represent South Dakota in the U.S. House. She was named president of Augustana University earlier this year.

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