Keep 'em at home! That's the battle cry from the governor's office to the legislature every year as they look for ways to sanforize our shrinking population, which features fewer kids than ever as seed stock for the future. We offer college scholarships, medical school scholarships if they stay, some companies even write off mortgage-size student loans. But the South Dakota Diaspora, the exodus of hard-working, hard-studying heartland young people really has served South Dakota well. Our people get around more than our Mount Rushmore license plates.
The most recent example is Bob Schuknecht, one of the Sioux Falls O'Gorman Schuknecht clan, the son of the late fair manager Chuck Schuknecht. Bob, a friend of mine, got itchy feet a few years ago, headed for the nearest Peace Corps office and wound up in Moldova, a former Soviet satellite, one of the poorest countries in the world. He came home for a while and then got another job there with a government contractor helping to democratize the place.
Bob Schuknecht, our man in Moldova, international man of mystery
Bob's latest role was as an observer in Moldova's national election, which some feared would turn into a fiasco like the one in nearby Ukraine. Bob and his boss pulled a 26-hour shift, poking their heads into 18 precincts. He tells me he didn't see anything that wasn't on the up and up but having observers isn't an ironclad guarantee. It is a small world. Schuknecht tells me he met former South Dakota Lieutenant Governor Carol Hillard, who makes something of a career of overseeing elections. Is "Small World" too big a cliché? By the way, Bob tells me he's found a Moldovan Irish pub to nestle into on St. Patrick's Day.
Anyway, Schuknecht's role in this budding democratic movement behind the tatters of the iron curtain got me thinking about other South Dakotans who have left home and made the state's mark in the world...more than kuchen and fry bread.
Dr. Julie Gerberding heads the Centers For Disease Control. Tom Brokaw and Mary Hart need no explanation. Eureka's Al Neuharth failed in his home state but revolutionized the newspaper world as head of Gannett. The "Lawrence" in California's famous Lawrence-Livermore nuclear lab was Ernest Orlando Lawrence from Canton. Kimball-raised Dr. Alton Ochsner solidified the scientific link between smoking and lung cancer. I've run into a native of Clark at the embassy in Bangkok. George McGovern couldn't get elected president, but is known everywhere for his fight against hunger. There's NFL kicker Adam Vinatieri, Mitchell's Mike Miller in the NBA, and is there anyplace in the world where somebody hasn't heard of Captain 11? This is just the short list from my memory and scant research. Oh, and how could I forget world champion baseball manager Sparky Anderson of Bridgewater. He and I had the same teacher in different eras in different towns in different states. Dorothy Lange is 87 but she still proofreads my stuff and caught that omission in the first draft of this column! She tried to teach me English and tried to teach Sparky music. She fared better with others on both counts.
Others include Gary Owen of Laugh In and The Music Of Your Life on the radio, Bob "Come on down and spay or neuter your pet" Barker of The Price Is Right, Catherine "Daisy Duke" Bach of Faith and Charlies Angel Cheryl Ladd of Huron.
At times, tiny South Dakota seems like a big dot on that big blue marble you see from outer space. Some of them even made it without going to SDSU. I just thought they were worth noting.