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.)

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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.)

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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.)

 

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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.)

 

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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.

Welcome to SoDak Governors

Why did I create this blog?

One of my hobbies over the past several years has been to study the history of South Dakota’s governors.  I’ve tried to collect as much information about them as I can, looking to published books and articles, unpublished manuscripts and documents, and conversations and questions with former governors, their families, and their staff members.  My involvement with state government and politics has given me the privilege of getting to know quite a few of them.

I also enjoy serving as a board member for the Trail of Governors project in Pierre, which is raising funds to erect life-size bronze statues of each former governor throughout the capital city.  I have helped to draft the short biographical sketches of each governor, which are used at the unveiling ceremonies and on the Trail’s website.  The Trail is a great way to encourage visitors to Pierre to not only visit our state’s capitol building and state memorials, but to learn a little bit about the state’s history.

A few years ago, Dr. Jon Lauck invited me to write an essay for publication in The Plains Political Tradition: Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, Vol. 2.  Lauck, along with Drs. John Miller and Donald Simmons, have edited two excellent editions of these collections of essays on South Dakota’s political history, and a third is forthcoming from South Dakota Historical Society Press.  My article is entitled Leaders in the Land of Infinite Variety: A Collective Portrait of South Dakota’s Governors.  As I wrote in the introduction to that essay:

Since statehood, thirty-one men have served South Dakota’s governor.  Their personal biographies reflect the history of the state, even as their political careers directed it.  A few left an indelible mark on South Dakota.  Others are nearly forgotten by history.  Taken together, the stories of South Dakota’s thirty-one governors create a cumulative portrait of the state’s first 125 years.  The Plains Political Tradition:  Essays on South Dakota Political Culture, Vol. 2, p. 242.

A few months ago, I created a Twitter account, @SoDakGovs.  My goal for that account is to share some of the history I have learned, to retweet interesting historical tidbits tweeted by others, and to promote awareness of the Trail of Governors project.

That is also the goal of this blog.  I would like to have an online platform where I can post information about South Dakota history that exceeds 140 characters.  As I wrote in my essay, we can learn a great deal about South Dakota history through the study of our governors.  I will also branch out from that focus to post information of general historical interest.