Brookings business founder takes empty state senate seat after Diedrich’s resignation

Michelle Herrick

Michelle Herrick

PIERRE (CNS) -Sen. Al Kurtenbach, R-Brookings, served 12 years on the Brookings School Board, but before being appointed to former Sen. Larry Diedrich’s seat he had never served in state government.

“I’m still warming up,” Kurtenbach said.

Diedrich resigned after being chosen by the Republican Central Committee to campaign for the state’s congressional seat. Former Gov. Bill Janklow resigned the house seat Jan. 20. Kurtenbach will serve out Diedrich’s term, which ends this year. He is undecided whether he will run again.

“It’s taking awhile to build up my self-confidence,” said Kurtenbach, who was appointed by Gov. Mike Rounds. “But I’m gaining more on a daily basis.”

Kurtenbach serves on the state affairs, agriculture and natural resources and education committees.

“I try to find something meaningful to say before I speak up,” he said.

Kurtenbach was an electrical engineering professor in the late 1960s when he decided to start Daktronics with his colleague, Duane Sander.

“We observed that there were many capable young people graduating who wanted to stay in South Dakota, but there were not any electrical engineering jobs for them,” Kurtenbach said.

Daktronics began developing medical instruments until that developed into legislative voting systems. It was in the 1970s that the company began manufacturing scoreboards.

At that time, they had six full-time employees, now the company employs over 1000 people.

Rounds referenced Kurtenbach’s business experience when he announced the appointment.

“He has been a life-long leader in business and education, and that experience will serve him well as a legislator,” Rounds said.

Creating opportunities for young people to stay in South Dakota is something that is important to Kurtenbach.

“Part of my motivation for creating the business was so our children wouldn’t have to scatter to find opportunities,” he said.

Three of his five children work at Daktronics.

“It’s been my long-term, lifetime goal,” he said. “Working in the legislature allows me a greater impact and also aligns with the governor’s 2010 initiative for economic development and research.”

Kurtenbach is originally from Dimock, which is a town 20 miles south of Mitchell. He and his wife, Irene, moved to Brookings in 1962.

Kurtenbach said it has not been difficult to step into Diedrich’s position in the middle of the legislative session.

“All my life I’ve gone into areas that I am unfamiliar with,” he said. “I’ve just tried to learn the rules of the venue and actively participate to effect change.”