Gov. Harvey Wollman 1935-2022

Governor Harvey Wollman, 1935-2022

Harvey Lowell Wollman, twenty-sixth Governor of South Dakota, died Tuesday, October 18, 2022 at the age of 87. His death was confirmed in a statement from his family.

A native of Spink County, Wollman represented unique religious and ethnic backgrounds among South Dakota governors. He was the only to grow up in the Mennonite church, and the only governor to be ethnically Russian-German – that is, descended from Germans who had relocated to Russia in the 1700s and, a century later, fled for North America. (Tom Lawrence recently interviewed Wollman about his heritage, noting that Wollman’s grandfathers were both born in what is modern-day Ukraine).

Wollman was a veteran of the U.S. Army and a graduate of Huron College. It was at Huron College that Wollman met his wife, Anne Geigel. The two married on December 30, 1958 and their marriage, which lasted more than 63 years, is second in length to that of William and Harriet McMaster for a South Dakota governor and first lady.

Wollman served in the State Senate from 1969-75, where he was Democratic leader from 1971-74, two years in the minority and then two in the majority. In 1974, Wollman considered running for governor, in the belief that incumbent Governor Richard F. Kneip could not seek reelection. When the Supreme Court ruled that a constitutional change had afforded Kneip the right to run again, Wollman joined Kneip’s ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor, in the first election in which that the governor and lieutenant governor ran as a ticket.

A button from Wollman’s 1978 gubernatorial bid signaled that he would be no caretaker.

In 1978, Governor Kneip announced that he would resign to accept an appointment as U.S. Ambassador to Singapore. Wollman, as lieutenant governor, was a candidate to replace Kneip, running in a Democratic primary against State Senator Roger McKellips of Alcestor and Pierre farmer John Bohr. After the Associated Press erroneously called the primary for Wollman, he narrowly lost the Democratic primary to McKellips – the margin of 2.1% was the second-closest in a gubernatorial primary in state history.

Wollman became governor the following month, though, when Kneip was confirmed as ambassador and resigned. The first lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship, Wollman was sworn in outside on the Capitol steps – as inaugurations are typically in January, he is the only governor to do so – and he took the oath of office from his older brother, Chief Justice Roger Wollman, who went on to have a long career as a judge of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Given that he knew he would be governor for only a brief time, and that the legislature was not going to meet during his tenure, it would have been easy for Wollman to assume the role of caretaker. But that’s not what he did. Governor Wollman focused on three pressing issues and worked toward a solution. On water development, Wollman focused on a comprehensive proposal to streamline development, protect in-state water rights, study groundwater resources, and advance the Oahe Irrigation Project and other water projects. On access to rail, he recognized and highlighted the threat of abandonments of trunk rails and of boxcar shortages to the farm economy. And in tax reform, he proposed budget cuts to accelerate the elimination of the personal property tax, which Wollman called an “honesty tax” because it encouraged taxpayers to lie.

Wollman during his service as governor.

In each of these areas, Governor Wollman’s work paved the way for his successor, Governor Bill Janklow, and legislators to reach bipartisan agreement. That was nothing new for Wollman who, during his years in the legislature, had moved all sorts of bipartisan legislation through the body, advancing much of Governor Kneip’s agenda. As a state senator, Wollman led the creation of the State Investment Council and the establishment of authorities to finance construction of health and education facilities and affordable housing. As a member of the minority party, he was chosen to chair the legislative reapportionment committee that drew the first district maps of the “one-man, one-vote” era, reducing the State House from 75 members to 70. He also served, along with Kneip, on the Constitutional Revision Commission, which led to wide-ranging constitutional amendments that modernized all three branches of state government.

Perhaps most significantly, Wollman led the charge for the creation of a four-year degree-granting medical school at the University of South Dakota – a controversial position at the time, but one that advanced rural healthcare and led to the development of Sioux Falls as a regional health hub.

Despite all of that bipartisan achievement though, Wollman was always a proud Democrat. Raised in a Republican household, Wollman became a Democrat after hearing a speech by a fellow graduate of Doland High School, U.S. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. Following his departure from Pierre, Wollman throughout the 1980s was frequently discussed as a potential candidate for U.S. Senate or for a return to the Governor’s Office. He never again sought statewide office, but he remained a fixture at Democratic Party events and, in his later years, became something of a living symbol of an earlier time, when Democrats contended for control of the governor’s office and the state legislature, and even briefly led Republicans in voter registration. At the time of his passing, Wollman was the only living Democratic governor, lieutenant governor, or senate majority leader, and his 43 years as a former governor exceed all but Frank Farrar and Joe Foss.

Wollman on the Trail of Governors in Pierre

Talkative and friendly, Wollman loved people, and it was easy to see why his friends and neighbors chose him to represent them in Pierre. His statue on the Trail of Governors portrays Wollman giving a speech, recalling his gift for oratory. Although his time in the Governor’s Mansion was brief, he leaves a legacy as a consummate citizen-legislator whose policy achievements as a state senator rival those of many governors. South Dakota is a great state because we are not led by professional, full-time politicians. We are led by people like Harvey Wollman, who come to Pierre for a few weeks in the winter to contend with the issues and make decisions, and then return home to their homes, jobs, and families.

Wollman’s passing comes just under a year after the death of Governor Frank Farrar, who was a friend of Wollman’s and who Wollman remembered fondly upon his passing. Wollman was the last living Governor of South Dakota who served during the 20th Century. With his death, South Dakota now has just two living former governors – Mike Rounds and Dennis Daugaard – as well as current Governor Kristi Noem.

On a personal note, I would mention that, like Gordon Mydland who died earlier this month, Gov. Wollman was a friend of my grandfather, Henry A. Poppen. Grandpa Poppen served in the State Senate during the entire ten years from 1969-78 that Wollman served as a senator and then, while lieutenant governor, and President of the Senate. As two farmers from northeast South Dakota, the two always had a lot to talk about, and Grandpa always spoke very fondly of Wollman. I also appreciated that, on several occasions, Wollman took time to help me as I researched my book on South Dakota governors, clarifying a point or offering additional color. This post, on how Wollman came to be Kneip’s 1974 running mate, is an example of that.

Below, I have included a biographical sketch that I wrote of Wollman for the Trail of Governors, as well as a couple additional photographs of Wollman. I would also encourage you to read Tom Lawrence’s excellent articles about Wollman, as well as Wollman’s obituary.

Governor Harvey Wollman was the twenty-sixth governor of South Dakota, serving from 1978 to 1979. Wollman was born on March 14, 1935 in Frankfort, South Dakota and grew up on his family’s farm in Spink County. Wollman graduated from Doland High School in 1953. He married Anne Geigel in 1958, and they had three children: Kristine, Michael and Daniel.

Wollman attended Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and then served in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960. After leaving the Army, he completed his degree at Huron College in 1961.

After college, Wollman returned to his family farm. He was elected to the State Senate, serving from 1969 to 1975. He became a legislative leader, serving the Democratic caucus as both minority leader and majority leader.

In the legislature, Wollman was a sponsor of several major pieces of legislation, including the creation of the State Investment Council, the founding of the Housing Development Authority, and the establishment of the four-year, degree-granting School of Medicine at the University of South Dakota.

In 1974, Governor Richard Kneip invited Wollman to join him on the Democratic ticket as the candidate for lieutenant governor. The Kneip-Wollman team was elected, and Wollman took office in 1975.

Governor Kneip resigned in 1978 to become the U.S. Ambassador to Singapore. Wollman became the first lieutenant governor to succeed to the governorship, taking office on July 24, 1978. He was sworn in as governor by his brother, Chief Justice Roger Wollman.

Although Governor Wollman only served in office for five months, he was not a caretaker. As governor, he focused on water project development, proposed a plan to accelerate the elimination of the personal property tax, and highlighted the threat that railroad abandonment posed to the agricultural industry.

Governor Wollman left office in 1979. He and his wife continue to reside on their farm in Spink County.

Wollman was honored in 2013 by the Trail of Governors with a life-size bronze statue by sculptor John Lopez. The statue, placed at the intersection of Pierre Street and Dakota Avenue in downtown Pierre, portrays Wollman delivering a speech.

At the 2013 Trail of Governors unveiling ceremony, with Govs. Mike Rounds, Frank Farrar, Dennis Daugaard, and Walter Dale Miller.
At Mount Rushmore during the 2012 Buffalo Roundup weekend, with Govs. Dennis Daugaard, Frank Farrar, and Mike Rounds