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2012 Year In Review

December 31, 2012, 10:11 PM by Don Jorgensen

2012 Year In Review

2012 got off to an emotional start as the state said good-bye to one of its most controversial politicians: former Governor and Congressman Bill Janklow.  Janklow died in January at the age of 72 from inoperable brain cancer.

The combative Republican dominated South Dakota government for more than a quarter century, inspiring both fierce support and criticism.

"We're all here for one reason and one reason only, to celebrate the life of the greatest governor the state has ever had," former Senator Tom Daschle said at Janklow's funeral.

But even Janklow wouldn't have been able to deal with Mother Nature this past summer.  KELOLAND experienced one of the worst droughts in decades. 

"You have good years and you have bad years and this one is not going to be so good," Bridgewater farmer Phil Hofer said

As pasture land and crops dried up, many farmers and ranchers began to feel the heat.  Many were left with no choice but to sell off their herds.

"It came down to the decision.  We were spending more money to feed the cows than they were producing in milk.  There was no other choice; we had to sell," Lillian Heeren said.

Sioux Falls Mayor Mike Heuther did a good job of selling the idea of building a new Events Center. Work got underway on the $115 million Denny Sanford PREMIER Center. The 12,000-seat facility is expected to be open in late 2014.

Violence erupted on the streets of Sioux Falls on September 11 when a hair salon manager was gunned down in a parking lot. Amanda Connors was trying to warn a co-worker that her abusive boyfriend was on his way to the store.  Connors' mother talked about the girl she raised and the future she'll miss.

"Take care of the things today.  Tell the people you're with that you love them.  That was Amanda's last message to me; 'I'll talk to you tomorrow morning.'  And we didn't get that chance; tomorrow is never promised," Cathy Connors said.

South Dakotans also said good-bye to Indian Activist Russell Means. Means was on the front lines of the American Indian Movement. He led the 1973 takeover of Wounded Knee, a standoff with the federal government that lasted 71 days. 

AIM sought a return to Native American traditions while standing up for treaty rights. Means disagreed with critics who said AIM's aggressive tactics were counter-productive.

"The American Indian Movement only involved itself in violence in self-defense!  Never did we attack, never!" Means exclaimed.

In October, South Dakotans also paid their last respects to former Senator and one-time Presidential Candidate George McGovern. At his funeral, colleagues talked about the man who was a voice for the voiceless and an inspiration to the Democratic Party.

"There's a little girl in Malawi who has never heard the name George McGovern, who has enough to eat and an education.  There's a young man in Kenya committed to peace and justice.  It is up to us to carry on that legacy forward.  We love you Senator," Rep. Jim McGovern, who isn't related to McGovern but worked as an intern in his office, said.

The state executed two prisoners in 2012. It took 22 years but Donald Moeller died by lethal injection in late October for the brutal rape and murder of nine-year-old Becky O'Connell. Becky's mother raised money to drive from New York to witness Moeller's execution.

"No, it won't give me closure. Relief that he's finally gone and he's not breathing anymore. I'm looking forward to the light show when he changes color. There'll finally be justice for Bec," Tina Curl said.

The other inmate executed was Eric Robert. He too died by lethal injection for killing a correctional officer during a failed prison escape.

And one of the most inspiring stories of 2012 was watching South Dakota Highway Patrolman Andrew Steen walk out of the hospital on December 14, after spending eight weeks in recovery. He was run over by a suspected drunk driver and suffered a traumatic brain injury.

"I've gotten thousands of people praying for me, so that saved my life," Steen said.

It's a life that got to spend time with his family this holiday season.

"We got our boy back and we can't have a better gift than that," Steen's mother, Tricia Steen, said.

Friends and relatives also said good-bye to former U.S. Sen. Jim Abdnor.  He was best known nationally as the South Dakota Republican who ousted Democratic Sen. George McGovern from the Senate in 1980. But those at the funeral say Abdnor was a humble man who loved talking with people and served as a mentor to many. Jim Abdnor was 89

For more of the top stories from this past year, watch this week's Inside KELOLAND.

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