PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Governor Kristi Noem and several others dressed as figures from South Dakota’s historic past for a ceremonial groundbreaking Tuesday on the front lawn of the state Cultural Heritage Center.
A major renovation project began this spring at the center, which is now closed to the public through some point in 2025. The center was built in 1989 to mark South Dakota’s centennial of statehood.
For her costume, the governor chose to resemble the 19th-century look of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, who wrote the Little House on the Prairie books.
Others dressed to look like Scotty Philip, known for saving the buffalo in South Dakota, and like World War II ace pilot Joe Foss, who went on to be elected to two term as governor.
In her remarks, Noem credited two other previous governors, George S. Mickelson and Bill Janklow, for helping bring the center to reality.
“As I’ve looked at the Cultural Heritage Center through the years and the contents of it and the value it’s brought to our state, it’s just been incredibly impactful to South Dakotans since it’s been in place,” she said.
Noem asked the Legislature during the 2022 session to appropriate about $8.9 million of state general funds and $3.3 million in other spending authority for the renovation. The measure passed unanimously.
“When it’ll be completed, it’s going to be a big part of our next centennial of our state,” she told the small crowd that gathered Tuesday. “And when I was picturing about being here today, I was thinking about, This is really a celebration of the fact that you all still value investing in items like this, that you recognize the value of telling our story, and our history of where we’ve been, and that our next generation of students and people that live in this state should remember that and learn from our past, from history, and be able to use that as a tool to make decisions in the future to help be successful and to continue to live here on this land and thrive.”
Calamity Jane was the first person the governor had thought about portraying, until she thought a little more about the Old West figure’s infamous reputation. “So I decided against that one. I figured our press would have a hay day with that one. So I went with Laura Ingalls Wilder, who we are all very familiar with. In fact, we feel like she’s a part of our family.”
Noem recalled the many hardships that Laura and her husband and their family faced through the decades, with Laura finally turning to writing to help them financially. “And thank goodness she wrote her stories, because I hope that all of you have read, that I hope you have passed them on to your family members. They are the South Dakota story,” Noem said.
She added, “And we want to make sure we always have a place in this state that holds that history. We can learn from the way that other people lived their lives and from mistakes they made but also learn to how they incredibly stepped up during times of challenging situations and environments and used it to be much more successful far into the future. And so I’m grateful that people in this day and age take the time to write their stories, and that people invest their time in remembering our history of where we are.”