Campus banquet rallies for ranchers

An event sponsored by the Students’ Association raised over $12,500 for the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund sponsored the Rancher’s Relief Banquet Friday, Nov. 22 in the Volstorff Ballroom to help raise money for the South Dakota Rancher Relief Fund, which totals over $1.9 million. 

The event had over 450 people in attendance and raised over $12,500 for ranchers that were affected by Winter Storm Atlas in October. The fundraiser included a banquet with a wide menu, a silent auction with donated items from several sororities, fraternities, clubs, departments, area businesses and faculty members.   

Although the banquet was held nearly two months after the blizzard, planning began when tragedy had struck.

“The week after the blizzard, [I’d] been out west for a different meeting,” dean of the Agricultural and Biological Sciences Barry Dunn said. “I contacted Ben Stout about something to be done. [He was] ‘Already on it’.”

Dunn along with Master of Ceremonies Jim Woster, Students’ Association President Ben Stout, President David Chicoine and beef producers Riley and Jimmie Kammerer spoke at the event.

The Kammerers spoke of the devastation they experienced first hand because of Atlas. 

“Beef production is not what we do, it’s definitely who we are,” Jimmie Kammerer said. “Their [ranchers] bodies lay lifeless as those of their cattle.”

 The Kammerers noted that several families went hundreds of miles to help gather any live cattle that possibly survived the storm. During the previous week, the Kammerers had finished burying their cattle. They also received a check in the mail. Jimmie said the donor noted, “Not for charity … but for the future of beef production.” After the Kammerers spoke, they received a standing ovation and were wrapped with quilts —  a Lakota tradition that represents wrapping arms around one another.

The video that was shown gave details of Atlas and the aftermath it left. Atlas started on Oct. 3, covering five states as freezing rain then turning into snow. The snow continued for over 60 hours, with wind gusts up to 70 mph. Snowfall totals were as high as 56 inches. Despite the government being shut down at the time, the U.S. Weather Service came to work, watching the radar, despite having to walk through the blizzard to get to work.

Because of the extreme conditions and because they happened early in the fall, animals had not yet adapted to winter and hadn’t grown their winter coats. Most of the animals died due to hypothermia.

Damage estimates for power lines and buildings are $38 million with $45 million damages in livestock. There were several unharvested crops that were lost in the storm as well. Death tolls for livestock range from 80,000 to 100,000. The devastation was declared a national disaster on Nov. 11. Large mass-burial pits were made to bury the livestock.

More than 6,000 families have been affected because of Atlas, Chicoine said he hopes that support can continue to aid those affected.

“[We want] to put western South Dakotan lives back on track,” Chicoine said. “This institution and this region we serve are resilient … let us help them focus on what the can become.”