Gov. Frank Farrar 1929-2021

Governor Frank Farrar, 1929-2021

Frank Leroy Farrar, twenty-fourth Governor of South Dakota, has died. The former governor passed away early this morning in Rochester, Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic.

Governor Kristi Noem announced Farrar’s death on behalf of his family, saying, “Frank was an incredible leader for our state and a mentor to me over these past year, as well. His heart for people and his enthusiasm for public service have been an inspiration. Frank stayed active up until the day he died, as evidenced by the statue of him running on the Trail of Governors. He even competed in triathlons and Ironman competitions into his eighties. We should all hope to be able to live as active, caring, and full a life as Frank.”

Farrar, a Republican, served as governor from 1969-71 and as attorney general from 1963-69. He was a native of Britton, a veteran of the U.S. Army, and a graduate of the University of South Dakota.

Farrar left office in 1971 and never again sought political office. In the years since, he became very successful in business and banking. He was also a fixture at state events – Inaugurations, State of the State addresses, Governor’s Hunts, Republican Conventions. Farrar would still on occasion still attend National Governors Association events – former governors are always invited – and he once commented to me that when he had attended his first NGA conference, his peers attending including Ronald Reagan, Nelson Rockefeller, and George Romney.

That surprising fact goes to Governor Farrar’s incredible longevity. Taking office at 39, he was one of South Dakota’s youngest governors. At his passing, though, he had lived the longest life of any South Dakota governor, at 92 years and 212 days. Farrar’s youth at his election, combined with his long life, give him another historical distinction: he held the title “former governor” longer than any other South Dakotan in history. Having left office in January 1971, Farrar was a former governor for 50 years and 299 days, more than half his life.

Gov. Farrar, during his time in office

Farrar’s political career ended long ago, and he no longer kept a high profile outside of political circles. In the years since I first met him during the Rounds administration, Farrar was always kind, considerate, and encouraging of his successors; willing to be helpful but never looking for the spotlight. South Dakotans continued to appreciate Farrar and recognize him for his service, through government and business. Farrar was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2006 and, in 2018, his fellow Britton residents erected a South Dakota State Historical Society marker in his honor to commemorate the 50th anniversary of his election as governor (see picture below).

Farrar continued to draw attention occasionally for his participation, into his eighties, in Ironman events and other athletic competitions, continuing his lifelong commitment to physical fitness. He was also an avid private pilot; a few years ago he joked to me that “I fly because I’m too old to drive.” (Although he responsibly brought along a co-pilot in recent years.)

On a personal note, Governor Farrar was always very kind to me; anxious to visit, quick with an encouraging word, happy to talk to my children or take a picture. He was a reliable attendee at the Trail of Governors unveilings each year; his statue, prominently placed near his bank on Sioux Avenue in Pierre, portrays Farrar running, evoking his “Ironman” reputation.

Governor Farrar’s passing comes exactly six years after the passing of his wife, First Lady Patricia Henley Farrar, who died on October 31, 2015. Their marriage of 62 years and 148 days, was the third-longest for any South Dakota governor and first spouse. (The longest was 66 years, 151 days for William and Harriet McMaster; second is 62 years, 305 days and counting for Harvey and Anne Wollman).

With Farrar’s death, South Dakota has three living former governors – Harvey Wollman, Mike Rounds, and Dennis Daugaard – as well as current Gov. Kristi Noem. There are seven living attorneys general: Gordon Mydland, Kermit Sande, Roger Tellinghuisen, Mark Barnett, Larry Long, Marty Jackley, and incumbent Jason Ravnsborg.

In addition to Governor Noem, other South Dakota leaders have offered reactions to Farrar’s death:

U.S. Senator and Former Governor Mike Rounds: “Gov. Farrar had boundless energy and unlimited optimism. God blessed Frank with a long life and he used every minute of it to pursue a variety of different interests; first among them public service. We are grateful for his service to our country as a veteran and to South Dakota as the attorney general and governor. He was also an involved community leader, astute businessman, fellow pilot, generous philanthropist, accomplished athlete and, most importantly, a father of five. Jean and I valued our friendship with Frank and Pat. Our prayers go out to the Farrar family.”

Former Governor Dennis Daugaard: “Frank Farrar was an accomplished leader, in government and in business, who always supported his community and his family. He was always encouraging to me. My heart goes out to his family.”

Congressman Dusty Johnson: “Frank Farrar was a good friend, a driven athlete, a successful businessman, and a dedicated public servant. South Dakota was blessed by his life.”

Below I have included the biographical sketch of Governor Farrar that I wrote several years ago, a version of which is on the Trail of Governors website. It repeats some of what is above but includes more specific information about his political career. In addition, Jonathan Ellis of the Argus Leader has also written a very nice obituary of Farrar. At the bottom of this post are a few more pictures of Farrar.

Governor Frank Farrar was the twenty-fourth governor of South Dakota, serving from 1969 to 1971. Farrar was born on April 2, 1929, in Britton, the son of third-generation homesteaders in Marshall County. He entered the Boy Scout program in Britton, becoming an Eagle Scout and later in life, a Distinguished Eagle Scout. He graduated from high school in 1947 with a serious lifetime football injury and as senior class president. Farrar was the only person elected governor at South Dakota Boys State, and later also elected governor of the state of South Dakota. He attended the University of South Dakota at Vermillion, S.D., graduating with a business degree and a law degree. He served as president of his fraternity, the inter-fraternity counsel, and USD’s student body.

Gov. Farrar on the Trail of Governors in Pierre

Farrar joined the South Dakota ROTC while at USD, which helped finance his education. He was commissioned as a lieutenant and served in the Korean War. Farrar continued serving as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserves for 15 years. In 1953, he married Patricia Henley from Claremont, S.D. The Farrars had five children: Jeanne, Sally, Mary, Anne, and Robert, and all graduated from USD.

After leaving the Army, Farrar became an estate and gift tax examiner for two years. He returned to open a law practice in Britton. There he learned to fly a crop sprayer and became a pilot with 19,000 hours. He served as Marshall County judge and as Marshall County state’s attorney. He was elected president of the South Dakota State’s Attorneys Association. In 1962, at the age of 33, Farrar was elected and served as the youngest South Dakota attorney general, serving for three two-year terms. He focused on enforcing insurance, banking and securities laws, and reducing drug-related crime.

Farrar was elected governor in 1968 at the age of 39. As governor, he focused on consumer protection and modernizing the state’s banking and insurance statutes. He garnered more state aid for education and assisted in utilizing advanced teaching methods and higher efficiency. Governor Farrar signed a Narcotics Drug Act to crack down on drug users and dealers. He also supported a “no strike” law for public employees, and negotiated a settlement of a strike at the Homestake Mine.

Governor Farrar launched a “decade of development,” recruiting businesses locally as well as from other states. Among his notable successes are attracting 3M plants to Brookings and Aberdeen, siting the Big Stone coal-fired owner plant in Grant County, and working with the state’s congressional delegation to bring EROS Data Center to northeastern Minnehaha County.

Farrar allocated state funds to create the United Sioux Tribes, and sought to reduce racial tensions with a commutation of a death sentence for Thomas White Hawk. Despite those efforts, the American Indian Movement emerged as a political force, occupying Augustana College in 1970.

Governor Farrar was defeated for reelection in 1970, losing to Democrat Richard F. Kneip. His loss is attributed to the poor national environment for Republicans in 1970 and the rise of a stronger Democratic Party in South Dakota led by Kneip, George McGovern, and Jim Abourezk. Farrar was hurt by the controversial issue of jurisdictional disputes between municipal electric utilities and REAs, as well as a divisive primary challenge from State Senator Frank “Rudy” Henderson of Rapid City.

Following his defeat, Farrar returned to law, farming and banking. He served on the advisory board for Wells Fargo and Citi Bank. Despite physical handicaps, Farrar participated in triathlons, Ironman competitions and the Senior Olympics, statewide and nationally, into his eighties.

Farrar was honored in 2013 by the “Trail of Governors” with a life-size bronze statue by sculptor James Michael Maher. The statue, placed in front of Farrar’s First National Bank on Sioux Avenue, portrays Farrar running, evoking his reputation for physical fitness.

Gov. Farrar, with fellow governors Harvey Wollman (seated left), Walter Dale Miller (seated right), Mike Rounds (standing left), and Dennis Daugaard (standing left), prior to the 2013 unveiling of Trail of Governor statues of Farrar, Wollman, and Bill Janklow.
Governor Farrar with Britton Mayor Clyde Frederickson at the unveiling of the State Historical Society marker honoring Farrar in Britton, in 2018
Governor Farrar, waving at the inauguration of Governor Kristi Noem in 2019