Alum’s life cemented in printed word

Stuart Hughes

By Kevin Woster, Reporter for the Rapid City Journal and Collegian alum

Rarely do I pass Frost Arena without thinking about the sidewalk.

Part of it is mine. Or partly mine.

In my mind, at least.

I helped lay it in September of 1972, back when I was working construction with a crew building Frost Arena.

I love saying that: “back when I was working construction.” It’s so beefy, so manly, so contrary to my nature, and my public persona, such as it is.

Nobody would presume me to be a former construction worker, particularly one specializing in pouring sidewalks and manhandling cement.

Yet, that’s what I was doing back in the day. And I mean the day. Because that’s how long I worked construction: one day.

Actually, it was one afternoon and part of the next morning, slightly less than a day, all told.

That was my only experience with construction work. It wasn’t much, but it convinced me I should return to school the next semester and resume my journalism studies.

Still, though, the hours I spent in erratic, reckless operation of a power wagon – a wheelbarrow, basically, with a motor on it – running fresh cement from a truck to the sidewalk forms gave me a new commitment to the low-paid, little-respected news profession I would pursue.

It also provided entertainment for the real construction workers on the crew, whom I joined at 1 p.m. after hiring on in the morning. Looking at me with my long hair, jeans and chambray shirt embroidered with a peace sign and flowers, they smiled and seemed to be placing subliminal bets on how long I’d last.

Most seemed mildly surprised when I showed up for work the next morning. But they were not a bit startled when I announced, after a mid-morning “coffee break” of raisins and orange juice, that I’d seen enough of the power wagon – a growling brute of a machine that, when filled with fresh cement, led me in an un-merry chase across uneven ground to a point somewhere near confused exhaustion.

The real construction workers nodded, offered tips on leaving the site without calling the attention of the foreman, and wished me well in more appropriate—for me—pursuits. And soon I was rumbling away from the construction site in my only muscular apparatus: a 1962 two-door Chevy Impala hardtop, 300-horse, 327.

The Impala, at least, had impressed the construction crew.

But even that would be lost the following spring when I parked and eventually sold the Chevy and bought a new Toyota Carina—a model that was almost as short-lived as my construction career.

Driving the Carina was a different experience from the rumbling Impala. And my developing journalism career was a world away from my brief, failed experiment in construction work.

So my life went the way it was supposed to.

But I’ve still got a piece of that sidewalk, and Frost Arena couldn’t be what it is today without me.

In my mind, at least.