On the lookout for biographies of SD governors

FullSizeRenderBiographies of South Dakota governors admittedly fill a niche-market. They unlikely to sell millions of copies like John Adams, win a Pulitzer Prize like The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, or inspire a hit Broadway musical like Hamilton.

Yet, over the years, several books have been written about South Dakota’s governors. This post is an attempt to create a comprehensive list of those biographies. Not included are shorter articles or biographical sketches, general histories of the state, or books that compile sketches of every governor (such as Lynwood Oyos’ Over a Century of Leadership, or this blogger’s own humble efforts).

One clear takeaway from this list is that there is room for more work in this area. Many South Dakota governors would be good subjects.  Of particular urgency are biographies of Richard F. Kneip and William J. Janklow, both major figures for whom first-hand sources are still living.

(If a reader is aware of a biography that has been overlooked, please let me know on this blog’s contact page.)

Arthur C. Mellette

Arthur C. Mellette, The Civil War Diary of Arthur Calvin Mellette (Codington County Historical Society, 1983).

John Timm, And the Last Shall Be First:  South Dakota’s First, First Family (Pine Hill Press, 2008).

Coe Crawford

C. Perry Armin, “Coe I. Crawford and the Progressive Movement in South Dakota,” South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections, Vol. XXXII, pp. 23-231 (South Dakota State Historical Society, Argus Printers, 1964). (This is technically an article in the SD State Historical Society’s annual journal, but at 209 pages it is longer than many of the books included in this list.)

Peter Norbeck

Gilbert Courtland Fite, Peter Norbeck: Prairie Statesman (South Dakota State Historical Society Press, revised edition, 2005).

Peter Norbeck and George Norbeck, The Norbecks of South Dakota (1938). (This is a history of Norbeck’s ancestors, written by Gov. Norbeck and his brother, although it also includes some information about Gov. Norbeck’s early life.)

Lydia Norbeck and Nancy Tystad Koupal (ed.), “Recollections of the Years,” South Dakota Department of History Report and Historical Collections, Vol. XXXIX, pp. 1-147 (State Publishing Co., 1979). (As with the Crawford biography above, this was technically an article in the SD State Historical Society’s annual journal, but at 147 pages is comparable in length to the books on this list. Nancy Tystad Koupal of SDSHS edited Mrs. Norbeck’s recollections and added some explanatory materials.)

Tom Berry

Paul Higbee, South Dakota’s Cowboy Governor Tom Berry:  Leadership During the Great Depression (History Press, 2017).

Joe Foss

Walter Simmons, Joe Foss:  Flying Marine (E. P. Dutton & Co., 1943). (This book was first published during World War II, before Foss’ political career, and therefore focuses entirely on his war record.)

Joe Foss with Donna Wild Foss, A Proud American: The Autobiography of Joe Foss (Pocket Books, 1992).

George S. Mickelson

James O. Hansen, Creating the Future for South Dakota: The Mickelson Legacy (South Dakota State Historical Society Press, 1994).

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New Hall of Honor at State Capitol honors Medal of Honor recipients

IMG_7651Recently, the South Dakota Hall of Honor, which recognizes South Dakotans who received the Congressional Medal of Honor, was relocated to the first floor of the State Capitol. The display had previously been in the Soldiers and Sailors War Memorial Building, where it was not prominent to the public and was not handicapped-accessible.

The new display is worth seeing during a visit to the State Capitol.  The display features the complete Medal of Honor citations for each recipient, and they describe truly remarkable acts of heroism and valor. Below is a list of South Dakota’s recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, with a hyperlink to the citation added to each recipient’s name and excerpts from the citations.

Charles D. Roberts – Spanish-American War. “Gallantly assisted in the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines under heavy fire of the enemy.”

Willibald C. Bianchi – World War II. An excerpt: “When wounded early in the action by 2 bullets through the left hand, he did not stop for first aid but discarded his rifle and began firing a pistol.”

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Trail of Governors statue of Gov. Joe Foss, recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor
Joseph Jacob Foss – World War II. Foss also served as the 20th Governor of South Dakota from 1955-59. The Trail of Governors statue of Foss, which was unveiled this June, portrays Foss in his naval aviator uniform. It is on temporary display at the South Dakota National Guard Museum in Pierre, and will be permanently installed this fall near the Joe Foss Building on Capitol Avenue.

An excerpt from the Foss citation: “Engaging in almost daily combat with the enemy from 9 October to 19 November 1942, Capt. Foss personally shot down 23 Japanese planes and damaged others so severely that their destruction was extremely probable.”

Arlo L. Olson – World War II. An excerpt: “Although 5 German soldiers threw handgrenades at him from a range of 5 yards, Capt. Olson dispatched them all, picked up a machine pistol and continued toward the enemy. Advancing to within 15 yards of the position he shot it out with the foe, killing 9 and seizing the post.”

Herbert A. Littleton – Korean War. An excerpt: “When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he unhesitatingly hurled himself on the deadly missile, absorbing its full, shattering impact in his body.”

Woodrow W. Keeble – Korean War. An excerpt: “With complete disregard for his personal safety, Master Sergeant Keeble dashed forward and joined the pinned-down platoon. Then, hugging the ground, Master Sergeant Keeble crawled forward alone until he was in close proximity to one of the hostile machine-gun emplacements. Ignoring the heavy fire that the crew trained on him, Master Sergeant Keeble activated a grenade and threw it with great accuracy, successfully destroying the position. Continuing his one-man assault, he moved to the second enemy position and destroyed it with another grenade. Despite the fact that the enemy troops were now directing their firepower against him and unleashing a shower of grenades in a frantic attempt to stop his advance, he moved forward against the third hostile emplacement, and skillfully neutralized the remaining enemy position.”

Patrick Henry Brady – Vietnam War. An excerpt: “The friendly ground force, pinned down by enemy fire, had been unable to reach and secure the landing zone. Although his aircraft had been badly damaged and his controls partially shot away during his initial entry into this area, he returned minutes later and rescued the remaining injured. Shortly thereafter, obtaining a replacement aircraft, Maj. Brady was requested to land in an enemy minefield where a platoon of American soldiers was trapped.”

Michael John Fitzmaurice – Vietnam War. The Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home in Hot Springs is named in his honor. An excerpt from his citation: “Realizing the imminent danger to his comrades, and with complete disregard for his personal safety, he hurled 2 of the charges out of the bunker. He then threw his flak vest and himself over the remaining charge. By this courageous act he absorbed the blast and shielded his fellow-soldiers. Although suffering from serious multiple wounds and partial loss of sight, he charged out of the bunker, and engaged the enemy until his rifle was damaged by the blast of an enemy hand grenade.”

Leo K. Thorsness – Vietnam War.  Thorsness was a prisoner of war for nearly six years – among his fellow prisoners was future U.S. Senator John McCain.  Thorsness ran for U.S. Senate in 1974, losing to incumbent George McGovern, and for U.S. House in 1978, losing the open seat very narrowly to Tom Daschle.

An excerpt from the Thorsness citation: “Upon being advised that 2 helicopters were orbiting over the downed crew’s position and that there were hostile MlGs in the area posing a serious threat to the helicopters, Lt. Col. Thorsness, despite his low fuel condition, decided to return alone through a hostile environment of surface-to-air missile and antiaircraft defenses to the downed crew’s position.”

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 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.