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