VERMILLION, S.D. (KELO) — Nancy McCahren, an 88-year-old fan, alumnus and former faculty member of the University of South Dakota will serve on October 7, 2023, as Grand Marshal for the annual Dakota Days parade. We asked how she became Grand Marshal, but a better question may be this; How has she not been already?
McCahren has lived and breathed USD pretty much her entire life. Her father, Carl “Rube” Hoy was the basketball coach and an eventual athletic director for the U, and McCahren has been a USD fan since she was 3-years-old.
“Mother and I would sit right across the basketball court from dad, and I could look right at him,” McCahren recalled.
McCahren loved basketball games, but football, as a child, was not her favorite. “I didn’t like them as much because it was out in the cold,” she laughed. She’s now a much bigger fan of football thanks to the cover of the Dakota Dome.
McCahren would not only watch the basketball team from the sidelines. “My father would have basketball players come to our house for dinner during a holiday when they couldn’t go home,” she reminisced.
No stranger to the Dakota Days parades, McCahren watched the parade each year from her house on Main Street, marched in the parade as a member of the Vermillion High School band in her teens and then later appeared in the parade as a member of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority.
McCahren would earn her undergraduate degree in 1957 at USD, majoring in English and minoring in French and education. This stint at USD served her well. She went on to be recognized as a Fulbright Scholar, getting the opportunity to travel abroad to study in France.
Today, McCahren learned that French is not taught at the University, to her chagrin. “We don’t teach it anymore,” she says she was told. “They have several new classes — they have Russian, and they have Native [language classes].”
McCahren got her Masters in French, and still speaks it well. “Oui, je parle français,” she replied, when I asked.
Informed that I could not speak French (they weren’t teaching it at USD when I attended, after all), McCahren asked me how I am doing, in Spanish. “Hablo un poco de Español,” I replied.
“They’re doing Spanish now, but no French,” laughed McCahren. “Spanish and German.”
In all, McCahren has three degrees from USD, but she also played a role in helping many others earn theirs.
“I started out here teaching,” said McCahren. “I came down here today from Sioux Falls with one of my former students — Steve Wilson (the former student in question) won a Rhodes Scholarship — Steve Wilson was in my freshman English class.”
McCahren says that she got a sense in her classes of her student’s potential. “I could always tell the ones who were going to be somewhere, and the ones who weren’t going to be somewhere,” she said, going on to recount a story about one young man who’d taken her advanced writing course. He called McCaren years later, informing her he’d just gotten a prestigious job with Texas Instruments. The reason? He was the only candidate with writing skills.
Beyond teaching, McCahren also served as an adviser for Kappa Alpha Theta, the inter-fraternity council, and eventually the overall Greek-life advisor.
Since retiring in the early 2000s, McCahren has stayed close to the University. She now lives in Sioux Falls, but has a friend who driver her down to home Basketball and Football games. She’s been a fixture at various student events and ceremonies over the years, but now she’s set to be the featured star of the parade.
Quite frankly, McCahren has no idea how she was chosen to be Marshal, but it did come as somewhat of a surprise when she got the call. “I have kept involved, I have given scholarship monies every year — I never missed a program,” she said. “I don’t like living in Sioux Falls, because I’m not in Vermillion. I can’t go to all the concerts anymore; I can’t go to the museum as much as I want.”
McCahren has made a point to stay on top of athletics as well. “I’ve known 2/3 of the men that were athletes at the University through all the years,” she said. “I did that because I went, and I was friends with them and I supported them.”
I asked McCahren what went through her mind when she was informed she’d been chosen to be the parade Marshal. “I thought, well, that’s very interesting,” reflected McCahren. “Usually I don’t think they’d be as old as I am.”
Another reason it was a surprise to McCahren is her proximity to the University over the years.
“It was just kind of a shock to me to think that finally this was happening after I’ve watched every parade since I was 6-years-old,” McCahren said.
McCahren isn’t too sure what to expect of her Marshal duties. “I hope I don’t get cold,” she said. “I’m going to have to wear my fur coat — I just hope that I can wave at people and be gracious.”