Lutherans most common among SD Governors

First Lutheran Church
First Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls. Lutherans are most common among SD governors.

To date, South Dakota’s thirty-one governors have all considered themselves to be Christian.  Twenty-nine of them have been members of Protestant churches.

Lutheranism is the most common affiliation, in large part because the 1950s and 1960s saw the election of four Norwegian Lutheran governors:  Sigurd Anderson, Ralph Herseth, Archie Gubbrud and Nils Boe.  Earlier governors had been members of other mainline Protestant churches, reflecting their roots in the American northeast and Great Lakes regions.  As old religious divisions have faded away, South Dakota has seen two Roman Catholics elected governor:  Dick Kneip in the 1970s, and Mike Rounds in the 2000s.

Here is the complete list:

  • St._Joseph_Cathedral_Sioux_Falls_25
    St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Sioux Falls.  Two SD governors have been Roman Catholic.

    Lutheran (8) – Peter Norbeck, W. J. Bulow, Sigurd Anderson, Ralph Herseth, Archie
    Gubbrud, Nils Boe, Bill Janklow, Dennis Daugaard

  • Methodist (7) – Samuel Elrod, Robert Vessey, Warren E. Green, Tom Berry, George T. Mickelson, Joe Foss, George S. Mickelson
  • Presbyterian (4) – Charles Herreid, Coe Crawford, Harlan J. Bushfield, Frank Farrar
  • Congregational (3) – Arthur C. Mellette, Frank Byrne, M. Q. Sharpe
  • Baptist (3) – Charles Sheldon, Andrew E. Lee, Carl Gunderson
  • Episcopalian (2) – William H. McMaster, Leslie Jensen
  • Roman Catholic (2) – Richard F. Kneip, Mike Rounds
  • Mennonite (1) – Harvey Wollman
  • Non-denominational Protestant (1) – Walter Dale Miller

(These classifications are made based on the best available biographical information.  It is possible that some governors changed affiliations during their lives.  No attempt has been made to distinguish, for example, specific denominations of “Lutherans.”)

Looking ahead to the major contenders for governor in 2018, Marty Jackley would follow Kneip and Rounds as the third Roman Catholic governor.  Billie Sutton would be the fourth Baptist, although the first since Carl Gunderson served in the 1920s.  Kristi Noem attends a non-denominational evangelical church, and so like Walter Dale Miller would be considered “non-denominational Protestant.”


SD Governors’ alma maters

Of the 31 men who have served as Governor of South Dakota, 20 have held at least one college degree.  The complete list is below, but here are a few observations:

  • The University of South Dakota by far leads the list, with 10 graduates having served as governor.
  • Only two other South Dakota universities have even one governor as a graduate:  South Dakota State University and the now-closed Huron College have one each.
  • Besides USD, the only other university that can claim more than one governor as a graduate is the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
  • Seven South Dakota governors hold degrees from current members of the Big Ten conference, reflecting that many of the state’s early leaders came from Midwestern states such as Iowa and Wisconsin.
Old Main USD
Old Main at the University of South Dakota, alma mater of 10 South Dakota governors.

Here is the complete list:

  • University of South Dakota, Vermillion SD (10) – Carl Gunderson, Leslie Jensen, M. Q. Sharpe, George T. Mickelson, Sigurd Anderson, Joe Foss, Frank Farrar, Bill Janklow, George S. Mickelson, Dennis Daugaard
  • University of Wisconsin, Madison WI (2) – Charles Herreid, Nils Boe
  • Indiana University, Bloomington IN (1) – Arthur C. Mellette
  • DePauw University, Greencastle IN (1) – Samuel H. Elrod
  • University of Iowa, Iowa City IA (1) – Coe Crawford
  • Beloit College, Beloit WI (1) – William McMaster
  • University of Michigan, Ann Arbor MI (1) – W. J. Bulow
  • University of Minnesota, St. Paul MN (1) – Harlan J. Bushfield
  • Huron College, Huron SD (1) – Harvey Wollman
  • South Dakota State University, Brookings SD (1) – Mike Rounds
  • Northwestern University, Evanston IL (1) – Dennis Daugaard

Several of those listed earned more than one degree from the same university.  Dennis Daugaard is the only SD governor to hold degrees from two different universities; he earned his undergraduate degree at USD and his law degree at Northwestern University.

Eleven South Dakota governors did not hold a college degree:  Charles Sheldon, Andrew E. Lee, Robert S. Vessey, Frank M. Byrne, Peter Norbeck, Warren E. Green, Tom Berry, Ralph Herseth, Archie Gubbrud, Richard F. Kneip, and Walter Dale Miller.  Some of them attended college but did not complete a degree; for example, Norbeck attended USD, Kneip attended South Dakota State College and St. John’s University, and Miller attended the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.  (A more complete list is below).

Among the 2018 gubernatorial contenders, Kristi Noem would follow Mike Rounds as the second Jackrabbit governor.  She attended Northern State University but left after her father died in a farming accident.  Noem took courses in Watertown through Mount Marty College and later completed her degree at SDSU.

Marty Jackley and Billie Sutton would both be the first graduate of their respective alma maters to serve as South Dakota governor.  Jackley earned his electrical engineering degree from the SD School of Mines and Technology (as well as a law degree from USD).  Sutton is a graduate of the University of Wyoming.

Here is a list of college and universities which SD governors attended, but from which they did not graduate.  It may not be a complete list:

  • Herreid – Galesville University, Galesville WI (later Gale College, it closed in 1939)
  • Vessey – Oshkosh (WI) Commercial College
  • Norbeck – USD
  • Gunderson – Cornell University, Ithaca NY
  • Bushfield – Dakota Wesleyan University
  • Sharpe – International Correspondence School; Kansas City (MO) Night School of Law
  • Anderson – South Dakota State College (now SDSU)
  • Foss – Sioux Falls College (now University of Sioux Falls); Augustana College (now Augustana University)
  • Herseth – North Dakota State College (now NDSU); Northern State College (now NSU)
  • Kneip – South Dakota State College, St. John’s University, Collegeville MN
  • Wollman – Bethel College, St. Paul MN
  • Miller – SD School of Mines and Technology

New Trail of Governors statues

On June 16, 2017, the Trail of Governors unveiled new statues of Govs. Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson, and Joe Foss at the State Capitol.  Family and friends of all four former governors attended the unveiling, as well as Gov. Dennis Daugaard and former governors Frank Farrar and Mike Rounds.

14 berry

Tom Berry was a Mellette County rancher, known for his folksy humor.  While running for governor during the Depression-era election of 1932, Berry promised to “take an axe” to the state budget, and after he was elected he cut state spending by twenty-five percent.  His sculpture by John Lopez portrays these traits – Berry poses in a cowboy hat and western suit, smiling as he leans upon a fencepost, holding his “budget-cutting” axe in his hand.  The statue is slated to stand in downtown Pierre, joining Peter Norbeck, Nils Boe, and Harvey Wollman at the corner of Pierre Street and Dakota Avenue. In the meantime he is on display at the Cultural Heritage Center.

15 jensen

The statue of Leslie Jensen pays tribute to Jensen’s service in World War I.  A member of the South Dakota National Guard, Jensen’s unit was deployed to patrol the Texas-Mexico border in 1916, and then to France during World War I in 1918.  After he served as governor, Jensen’s unit was once again activated for service in World War II, with Jensen in command.  He served in Australia and, after contracting malaria, was transferred to General Douglas MacArthur’s headquarters.  Sculptor James Van Nuys portrayed Jensen in his World War I-era uniform, and the statue will be erected in front of the Soldiers and Sailors World War Memorial Building, which is the state’s memorial to World War I.  Until the Capitol Avenue construction is completed in September, Jensen will be on temporary display at the South Dakota National Guard museum.

19 anderson

Sigurd Anderson was an old-fashioned orator, and South Dakotans would travel from miles around to hear Anderson’s lengthy speeches.  He also loved people.  Anderson never forgot a name or a face, and as his daughter put it, “Where two or more were gathered,” Anderson would be present to speak.  Sculptor James Michael Maher captures Anderson’s friendliness, his love for people, and his skill as an orator with his statue.  After the unveiling, Maher took the Anderson statue back to his studio for finish work.  It will be on temporary display at the Cultural Heritage Center until street construction is completed this fall, at which time it will be installed in front the Sigurd Anderson Building on Capitol Avenue.

20 foss (trail of govs)

Joe Foss wore many hats throughout his life:  governor, football commissioner, NRA president, and outdoors television host.  But he earned his reputation, as well as the Congressional Medal of Honor, for his heroism as a naval aviator at Guadalcanal during World War II.  Sculptors Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby chose to portray Joe Foss in this defining role:  wearing his flight suit, staring up at the horizon for enemy planes.  His statue will be on temporary display at the South Dakota National Guard museum until this fall, when it will be installed in front of the Joe Foss Building on Capitol Avenue.

Gov. Sigurd Anderson: Trail of Governors Class of 2017

This Friday, June 16, the Trail of Governors is unveiling four new statues:  Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss.  In anticipation of the unveiling, this blog is featuring short biographical sketches of the four governors.  The sketches were originally written for the Trail’s website.

(Updated with a picture of the new Sigurd Anderson sculpture.)

Photo Jun 16, 11 34 03 AM copy
Gov. Sigurd Anderson, Trail of Governors statue by sculptor James Michael Maher

Governor Sigurd Anderson, one of two South Dakota governors to be born in another country, was born in 1904 in Arendel, Norway. He came with his family to the United States at age three, and settled in Lincoln County near Canton. Anderson attended rural schools and graduated in 1925 from Augustana Academy, a Lutheran high school in Canton. Anderson didn’t speak English until he attended school and struggled to overcome his Norwegian accent, but later remarked that “a little Norwegian went a long way with South Dakota voters.”


Anderson graduated from the University of South Dakota in 1931 and, after teaching history at Rapid City and Webster, returned to USD and earned his law degree. In 1937, Anderson married Vivian Walz. The couple had one child, Kristin.

After law school, Anderson returned to Webster where he opened a law practice. He served as Day County State’s Attorney and as an assistant attorney general. Anderson suspended his practice from 1943 to 1946 to serve as a legal officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

Anderson returned from his war service and was elected Attorney General in 1946. He led an effort to target illegal gambling in Deadwood, and was a witness to South Dakota’s only execution by electric chair.

In 1950, Anderson won a competitive Republican gubernatorial primary, and defeated Democrat Joe Robbie in the general election that fall. As a former teacher, Anderson dramatically increased state funding for public schools. He promoted continued development of the Missouri River, serving as chairman of the Missouri River States Committee. Anderson led the state through huge blizzards in 1951-52 and massive floods the following spring, using Air Force planes to airdrop hay to isolated cattle. And he held a “mortgage burning” to celebrate the retirement of the $57 million state debt from the failed Rural Credits program. In 1952, voters reelected Anderson with more than 70% of the vote – the largest share until that time.

After leaving office, Anderson was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the Federal Trade Commission, on which he served until 1964. Anderson sought a return to the Governor’s Office in 1964, losing the primary narrowly to Lt. Governor Nils Boe. In 1967, he was appointed a state circuit judge, serving in Webster, and held that position until 1975. Anderson died in 1990 and was interred at Webster Cemetery.

Gov. Joe Foss: Trail of Governors Class of 2017

This Friday, June 16, the Trail of Governors is unveiling four new statues:  Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss.  In anticipation of the unveiling, this blog is featuring short biographical sketches of the four governors.  The sketches were originally written for the Trail’s website.

(Updated with a picture of the new Joe Foss sculpture.)

Photo Jun 16, 11 33 54 AM copy
Gov. Joe Foss, Trail of Governors statue by sculptors Lee Leuning & Sherri Treeby

Governor Joseph J. Foss was born in 1915 and grew up on his family’s farm east of Sioux Falls. Foss discovered a fascination with flight after he saw Charles Lindbergh and his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, in Sioux Falls in 1927. Foss flew himself for the first time in 1934, when he went on an airplane ride with Spearfish aviator Clyde Ice.


Foss’ father was electrocuted and died when he stepped out of his pickup onto a downed power line during an electrical storm. Foss, a senior in high school, left school to run his family farm and work at a meat packing plant. He returned to Sioux Falls Washington High School and graduated once his younger brother could operate the family farm. In 1940, he graduated from the University of South Dakota.

A member of the South Dakota National Guard since 1937, Foss enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1940 and became a naval aviator. Foss downed 26 enemy planes in 63 days at Guadalcanal in the Pacific theater during the World War II, earning the Congressional Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Flying Cross. A photo of Foss receiving his Medal of Honor from President Franklin D. Roosevelt was featured on the cover of Life magazine.

In 1942, Foss married June Shakstad, and the couple had five children, three of whom lived to adulthood: Cheryl, Mary Joe, and Frank. Two other children, Joe Jr. and Eric, died in infancy.

Returning to Sioux Falls in 1946, Foss founded the South Dakota Air National Guard, attaining the rank of brigadier general. He operated a charter flying service and a Packard automobile dealership. During the Korean War, Foss returned to active duty in the U.S. Air Force, training pilots.

Foss was elected to the State House in 1948. He 1950, he ran for governor, narrowly losing the Republican primary to Sigurd Anderson. In 1952, Foss returned to the State House in 1952, and he was elected governor in 1954.

Governor Foss initiated the first state-directed economic development efforts, using his high profile to promote South Dakota’s favorable business climate around the nation. He signed legislation repealing all state laws that discriminated against Native Americans. Governor Foss built recreation areas on the new Missouri River lakes, and continued aggressive programs of highway construction and expansion of university facilities.

After leaving office in 1959, Foss served from 1959 to 1966 as commissioner of the American Football League, leaving shortly before the league merged with the older National Football League. He hosted outdoor television programs, and served as international chairman of Campus Crusade for Christ and President of the National Rifle Association. In 1967, Foss married Donna “Didi” Hall.

Foss retired to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he died on January 1, 2003. He was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Gov. Tom Berry: Trail of Governors Class of 2017

This Friday, June 16, the Trail of Governors is unveiling four new statues:  Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss.  In anticipation of the unveiling, this blog is featuring short biographical sketches of the four governors.  The sketches were originally written for the Trail’s website.

(Updated with a picture of the new Tom Berry sculpture.)


Photo Jun 16, 10 56 16 AM copy
Gov. Tom Berry, Trail of Governors statue by sculptor John Lopez

Governor Thomas M. Berry was born in Paddock, Nebraska in 1879 and attended public schools in O’Neill, Nebraska. In 1905, he married Lorena McLain and they had four children: Baxter, Nell, Faye, and Paul.


Berry came to South Dakota as a young man, first to Gregory County and then in 1912 to a homestead south of Belvidere in Mellette County. Eventually Berry built his ranch to 30,000 acres, raising Hereford cattle and saddle horses under his “Double X” brand.

Berry served in the State House of Representatives from 1925 to 1931, chairing the livestock committee and the Indian affairs committee. He also served on the Custer State Park board. In 1932, Berry challenged incumbent Governor Warren E. Green and was elected in the Democratic landslide that also elected Franklin D. Roosevelt as president. Berry was reelected in 1934.

Governor Berry was the first governor from West River, and he was known for his folksy, western humor. He took office during the depths of the Great Depression, as massive dust storms created “black blizzards” on the South Dakota plains. Wielding an axe to demonstrate his intentions, Berry cut state spending 25% and ended progressive programs such as the state coal mine, state hail insurance, and the state bonding department. He eliminated the state property tax, created a state income tax, and instituted a state ore tax to take advantage of the Homestake Gold Mine.

Governor Berry was the only governor in the country to personally direct federal New Deal programs in his state. Berry directed the construction of a new Governor’s Mansion on Capitol Lake, as well as hundreds of stock dams throughout the state. After prohibition was repealed, Berry called a special session to write new alcohol laws and institute a tax on alcohol.

Berry sought an unprecedented third term in 1938, but was narrowly defeated by Republican Leslie Jensen. Berry returned to his ranch and ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1938 and 1942. He eventually retired in Rapid City, where he died in 1951. He was interred at Belvidere Cemetery.

Gov. Leslie Jensen: Trail of Governors Class of 2017

This Friday, June 16, the Trail of Governors is unveiling four new statues:  Tom Berry, Leslie Jensen, Sigurd Anderson and Joe Foss.  In anticipation of the unveiling, this blog is featuring short biographical sketches of the four governors.  The sketches were originally written for the Trail’s website.

(Updated with a picture of the new Leslie Jensen sculpture.)


Photo Jun 16, 11 34 17 AM copy
Gov. Leslie Jensen, Trail of Governors statue by sculptor James Van Nuys

Governor Leslie Jensen was born in Hot Springs in 1892. His father, Christian, was a Danish immigrant who operated a stagecoach from Rapid City and later owned the People’s Telephone and Telegraph Company in Hot Springs.


Jensen attended school in Hot Springs and went to Culver Military Academy in Culver, Indiana. He joined the South Dakota National Guard and was deployed to the Texas-Mexico border in 1916 and then to France during World War I. Following the War, Jensen enrolled at the University of South Dakota, where he earned his law degree in 1921.

Following law school, Jensen became the federal collector of internal revenue for South Dakota, living in Aberdeen from 1922 to 1934. While in Aberdeen, he married Elizabeth Ward, whose father build the landmark Alonzo Ward Hotel. The Jensens had three children: Leslie, Natalie and Karen.

Jensen returned to Hot Springs, where he operated his family’s telephone business. The Jensen family also built and operated the Blue Bell Lodge in Custer State Park, which Jensen sold to the state in 1935.

In 1936, with no prior elected experience, Jensen ran for governor. He won an upset victory over incumbent Governor Tom Berry, who was seeking an unprecedented third term.

As a businessman, Governor Jensen strengthened state finances through increased taxes, cuts in state spending, and a reduction in state-held debt. As the only governor from the Black Hills, he emphasized tourism promotion. Governor Jensen also promoted highway construction and founded the precursor to the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

In 1938, Governor Jensen declined a second term and instead ran for U.S. Senate, but narrowly lost the Republican primary. In 1940, as American involvement in World War II loomed, Jensen’s National Guard unit was activated, with Jensen commanding the unit. He deployed to Australia, where he contracted malaria, and was reassigned to General Douglas MacArthur’s Australian headquarters.

After the War, Jensen returned to Hot Springs and resumed his business. He died in 1964, after he sustained injuries in a car accident on Highway 79, and was interred in Hot Springs.