PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — When Tim Reisch retires from state government next month, he’ll stand as one of the few in modern history who served as top executives under four South Dakota governors.
He’s stepping down June 7, after eight years as adjutant general, the top officer for the South Dakota National Guard.
He remembers where and when he decided to enlist. He was at a gathering at the Howard American Legion Post, on the Friday night before South Dakota’s October 1978 pheasant hunting season opened the next day.
That, he said, was the second-best move he’s made.
The first was asking his wife, Anne, to marry him.
“She’s been a saint,” he said. “I’m a lucky guy. I’ve always been lucky.”
At the time, Reisch was an under-employed plumber in Howard, the town where he grew up. Joining the National Guard meant taking his first airplane ride when he left for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, a U.S. Army base in Missouri.
His father, Amos, sent a letter to him in basic training – probably the first his father had written to him, Reisch said – advising him to go to officer candidate school.
Reisch followed that advice. He was a second lieutenant in the National Guard, all of 24 years old, when he ran for Miner County sheriff as an independent.
He didn’t have any experience in law enforcement. He campaigned for the open seat largely on what he’d learned in the National Guard, and on his local roots.
He won the four-way general election by 31 votes.
Reisch rose to be chosen president of the South Dakota Sheriffs Association.
He’d been Miner County sheriff 17 years when he applied for a vacancy as head of the troubled State Training School at Plankinton. He didn’t get the job.
Then Governor Bill Janklow called and asked Reisch whether he would take the post of deputy secretary at the state Department of Corrections.
“It was kind of a shocker,” Reisch said. “He’d made up his mind. He offered me the job.”
Reisch talked to Anne. They decided he should go for it.
That was in 2000, a year after teenager Gina Score had died on a forced run at the training school.
Her death led state and national news media to seize on Janklow’s boot-camp approach to juvenile corrections. The controversy dogged Secretary Jeff Bloomberg for years.
When Mike Rounds won the 2002 contest, the new governor-elect called Reisch to the Capitol. Rounds promoted him to corrections secretary.
Reisch recalled Rounds saying, “I hope you’re not going to turn down all the offers I’m going to make to you today.”
The change from the innovative and often riskier times of Janklow to the laid-back Rounds saw a big shift in how the governor’s office operated.
Different times reached into the Department of Corrections, too. As the new leader, Reisch worked to improve staff’s morale.
“Corrections just couldn’t quite catch a break,” Reisch said. “They were still kind of reeling when I took over.” He added, “I wanted to re-brand a little bit, especially on the youth side.”
One step was changing the name of the Custer campus to STAR Academy. Inside the department, he called for more positive news to be put out, regardless whether news reporters reported it: “We just said, let’s help our own cause.”
A decade later, Reisch still spoke highly of key staff from those times, such as Laurie Feiler, Doug Weber, Doug Hermann, Kevin McClain and others.
“It wasn’t really me,” he said. “All the people were there. They were good, really good. We just changed direction. We started over.” He described Bloomberg as “a good friend.”
Reisch applied for adjutant general in 2007, while he was corrections secretary. Rounds chose Steven Doohen, a major general and a command pilot in the South Dakota Air Guard. Rounds appointed Reisch as assistant adjutant general for the Army side in 2009.
Dennis Daugaard was lieutenant governor for Rounds. Daugaard during the 2010 campaign for governor asked all of Rounds’ Cabinet officers to submit resignation letters. Reisch wrote his and included the message that he wanted to be adjutant general.
When he met with Daugaard, he repeated his interest.
Daugaard said he was looking for “servant leaders” on his top team who weren’t interested in self-glory.
“You could tell he thought about it. He had some things written down,” Reisch said.
Daugaard said he would be taking a pay cut as governor and expected Cabinet members to do the same. According to Reisch, the message from Daugaard was: “We’re going to set an example. We’re going to balance the budget in one year.”
In April 2011, Daugaard named Reisch as secretary of the military and adjutant general, succeeding Doohen.
Reisch said he’s managed the 4,000+ troops of the South Dakota National Guard as “a metrics-driven organization” during his time at the top.
He reached into the right breast pocket of his camo fatigues and unfolded a South Dakota National Guard pamphlet that contained a statement he’d written.
“Our vision is we’re going to be the best in the nation,” he said. “We can prove we’re the best.”
He cited several statistics. One example: Of 31 superior-unit awards granted in the nation, South Dakota troops earned 30.
He described his view of the adjutant general’s role as making sure units were ready when the governor or the president called for them.
“I think we’ve hit it out of the park in that regard,” Reisch said. “We work real hard at it.”
He considers the South Dakota National Guard “head and shoulders” above contemporaries.
“It’s always been about readiness,” he said. “It’s not easy. It’s a lot of work.”
Reisch recently returned from visiting South Dakota National Guard troops on a mission in Poland. He also recently visited a Middle East deployment that hasn’t been publicized. His view is the United States could defeat Russia or China – but not both at the same time.
“If you take the United States out of the equation, this world would go to hell in a handbasket pretty quick,” he said. He talked about how ISIS had been beaten back in the Middle East. “It’s just going to be a steady diet of this stuff.”
The election of Kristi Noem as governor in 2018 marked another turning point for Reisch. One of his daughters gave a book to him last summer about picking the right time to retire.
Noem announced her Cabinet team after the election. The name of Tim Reisch didn’t appear, at all — not staying or going or moving. There was a reason.
He had decided that the central theme of what he’d read about retiring was on the mark. He wrote a letter about his plan to step down and gave it to outgoing Lieutenant Governor Matt Michels to pass along.
The incoming governor called Reisch the next day and said she accepted his decision.
That led to her announcement that he would be retiring in June.
“I’m kind of going out on my terms,” Reisch said. “Absolutely I’m not getting pushed out.”
He volunteered to help choose his successor and helped prepare a timeline. “When it got down to the short list, all the people were qualified.”
Replacing Reisch is Brigadier General Jeff Marlette, who had been a long-time K-12 superintendent and National Guard officer. Marlette most recently handled veterans and military issues on Rounds’ U.S. Senate staff in Rapid City.
“I think she picked a great guy,” Reisch said. “General Marlette, I think he’s going to do a great job.”
Tim and Anne lived apart while he was corrections secretary. She stayed in Howard while he rented an apartment in Pierre. They moved together in 2004 to Pennsylvania for a year so he could attend U.S. War College. While in Carlisle, she became pregnant with their fifth child.
The past eight years, the three moved to Rapid City and lived in a condominium, while keeping their newly-built house in Howard.
The South Dakota National Guard conducts statewide drills from Camp Rapid and that’s where his daily working office has been.
His Pierre office at the Soldiers and Sailors World War Memorial building, constructed after World War One through donations from people in counties throughout South Dakota, might be the smallest of any Cabinet member.
He plans to move home to Howard to retire and live with Anne again. She works part-time for the state Department of Social Services, now from the Madison office. He is fixing up a building that had been a feed dealership on SD 34 in Howard.
There, he intends to expand his hobby of restoring and selling antique tractors, when he’s not playing golf or helping on the family farm or camping.
He spoke with deep appreciation about his late father, who served in the National Guard during the Korean War era, and his mother, Marjorie, who keeps current with her family’s lives. If you listened, you could hear in his words the love for his family.
Another generation of Tim and Anne’s household, sons Tim and Trevor, have been members in the National Guard too.
The teenagers joined in high school. Each did a combat tour in Afghanistan, clearing hidden enemy explosive devices from roadways.
Reisch said he never prayed so hard in his life as he did that year of their dangerous duties.
Shortly after they returned home, Tim left the National Guard and now works for the federal Veterans Administration in Sioux Falls, while Trevor, who farms north of Mitchell, went to officer candidate school. He recently was promoted to captain.
“A proud Dad moment to be sure,” the retiring adjutant general said.
The couple’s oldest daughter, Terra, is a nurse anesthetist in Omaha, Nebraska. Their middle daughter, Tamara, is a registered nurse in Howard. Their youngest, Taylor, starts eighth grade in Howard this fall.
Reisch considers himself “a pretty unpretentious guy, if people get to know me. In my mind, I’ve always been this kid from Howard, South Dakota, who had a lot of breaks in life.”
Reisch credits his dad, Amos, for showing the way and remembers how proud his father looked 10 years ago when Tim received official promotion to brigadier general.
“He would be the reason I got in the Guard and OCS,” Reisch said.