Eight decades ago, in 1936, South Dakota received a presidential visit. It was the height of the Great Depression and the state was in the middle of the worst drought in history.
Tom Berry, who was serving as governor at the time, took on the responsibilities of directing New Deal programs for the state. He was the only governor to do so. Managing federal aid programs led Gov. Berry to have a good working relationship with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration, and when the president came to South Dakota, Gov. Berry served as his tour guide.
In his Sept. 6, 1936, fireside chat, FDR talked about his tour of South Dakota and other Great Plains states. He spoke of the families he had met who had lost their crops, their cattle, the water in their wells and all of their money. FDR saw “field after field of corn stunted, earless and stripped of leaves” and “brown pastures which would not keep a cow on 50 acres.”
After describing the devastation, he added:
“Yet I would not have you think for a single minute that there is permanent disaster in these drought regions, or that the picture I saw meant depopulating these areas. No cracked earth, no blistering sun, no burning wind, no grasshoppers, are a permanent match for the indomitable American farmers and stockmen and their wives and children who have carried on through desperate days, and inspire us with their self-reliance, their tenacity and their courage.”
Almost exactly 80 years to the day that FDR spoke those words South Dakotans again demonstrated this kind of fortitude in a time of trouble.
Over Labor Day Weekend, in the early hours of Monday, Sept. 5, 2016, Springfield was hit by a severe storm with straight line winds of 110 mph. The storm destroyed six homes and damaged a number of others. According to early news reports, 70 people were displaced by the storm. The local emergency manager called the SD Department of Public Safety to say the town might need state assistance.
What followed was the kind of response for which South Dakota is well known. Of all of those without a place to stay, only two people used the shelter arranged by the Red Cross. The rest found refuge with relatives and friends. In the days following the storm, more than 500 volunteers emerged to assist the community in cleanup efforts. The emergency manager called us back to say they wouldn’t need help after all.
I can’t say I was surprised. Whether it’s a flood, blizzard, drought or windstorm, South Dakotans always pull together when disaster strikes. We don’t wait for the government to arrive; we get to work, help ourselves and help our neighbors, too. That’s the way it was when President Roosevelt visited eight decades ago, and as we saw over Labor Day, that’s the way it is, yet today. And our way remains extraordinary.
This column was written by Governor Dennis Daugaard.