PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Bronze statues of past South Dakota governors Charles Sheldon, Coe Crawford and Carl Gunderson were unveiled Friday in a ceremony in the state Capitol rotunda.
They’ll be placed with likenesses of 25 other previous South Dakota chief executives spread along streets throughout the Capitol complex and Pierre’s downtown business district on what’s known as the Trail of Governors.
Sheldon was South Dakota’s second governor, serving two terms from 1893 to 1897. Crawford served one term from 1907 to 1909. Gunderson had one term from 1925 to 1927.
The project that began 11 years ago has three more to go in Andrew Lee (1997-1901), Frank Byrne (1913-1917) and W.J. Bulow (1927-1931).
One former governor, Frank Farrar of Britton, attended the event Friday, as did a former first lady, Pat Miller, widow of the late Walter Dale Miller. Deacon Kris Wollman, whose father is former governor Harvey Wollman, gave the invocation.
South Dakota’s current governor, Kristi Noem, spoke about the meaning of the project that started with a conversation between local businessmen Rick Jensen and Leroy Foster.
“Strong leadership by our previous governors has given us a foundation unlike a lot of other states have had,” Noem said. “Over the past year across the country we have seen people tear down monuments and tear down statues. And in the face of this movement, it would be easy for us to say, ‘Okay, we get the message, we’re not putting up any more statues.’ But that’s not what South Dakota does. What South Dakota does is that it recognizes the importance of learning from our former leaders, the incredible things that they did in different situations, but also knowing that they were flawed individuals, that they were people who went through hard times, and we will continue to remember our governors.”
She added, “We don’t raise statues to governors just because we agree with them. We honor them because of our history. We recognize their successes and their struggles. We also want to celebrate their triumphs and their victories.”
The statues cost about $75,000 each. The money is raised from donations. The Trail of Governors Foundation receives the contributions and the South Dakota Community Foundation manages them.
James Michael Maher of Spearfish created the Sheldon likeness, which honors him as a Civil War veteran, and unveiled it with help from Tom and Mary Tveit of Pierre, who provided partial financial support.
Lee Leuning of Sioux Falls and Sherri Treeby of Aberdeen did the Crawford statue, which shows him in a boxer’s stance and has partial support from Jason and Michelle Glodt of Pierre.
James Van Nuys of Rapid City sculpted the statue of Gunderson, which shows him as a wheat farmer and whose great-grandchildren joined Van Nuys in removing its cover.
Van Nuys said there was something for kids to see behind the bale on which the Gunderson likeness sits, but he didn’t say what.
Turns out it’s the likeness of a mouse.
The statues become the property of the Pierre city government, which oversees their care. Said Pierre Mayor Steve Harding, “It shows us all what partnerships can do.”
Donations are still sought for the Sheldon and Crawford statues. Donors are listed on the Trail of Governors website and primary donors’ names are cast in bronze plaques placed with the statues.
The celebration continues Saturday, June 12, with the ‘Run with the Govs’ event. Runners and walkers can register between 7:15 a.m. and 8:15 a.m. CT at the South Dakota Retailers building, west of the statehouse at 320 E. Capitol Avenue. The 3.5-mile route starts at the Capitol’s front steps.
In front of the retailers headquarters is a statue of Robert Vessey, who founded the retailers and whose likeness stands with arms spread. “And Governor Vessey will welcome you with hope,” emcee Jay Vogt said.