Wollman calls Farrar ‘a close personal friend’

Capitol News Bureau

Former South Dakota Governor Frank Farrar in 1970. Farrar died at the age of 92 on Sunday.

PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — Harvey Wollman remembers the day he met Frank Farrar. It was the summer of 1952 and Farrar pulled his 1948 Plymouth into the Wollman family’s farmyard, hoping to recruit Harvey’s older brother Roger to attend the University of South Dakota.

Sixteen years later, Farrar, a Republican from Britton, won election as South Dakota governor, while Wollman, a Democrat from Hitchcock, won a rematch against Republican Herb Heidepriem of Miller for a state Senate seat that Heidepriem had won against Wollman two years before.

Wollman recalled Farrar on Tuesday in a conversation with KELOLAND News as one of his two favorite governors. (Peter Norbeck of Redfield was the other.) Farrar died Sunday, October 31, six years to the day that his wife, Pat, had died. Wollman and his wife, Ann, went to her funeral.

“I wouldn’t say we were bosom buddies, but we were close personal friends,” Wollman said.  

His Senate victory had put Wollman in a place where he could admire the bolt of energy and innovation Wollman said Farrar brought to the Capitol, after years of Republican conservativism under governors such as Archie Gubbrud and Nils Boe.

Farrar started the process of revising the South Dakota Constitution. But he also succeeded at passing legislation to create a state Gas and Electric Council that angered many who relied on the rural electric system. The Legislature repealed the utilities law in 1970 but the wound remained.

Being in the Senate chamber — “I was green as a gourd,” Wollman says now — meant he could watch Republican Frank Henderson of Rapid City disparage Farrar as “the Silver Fox,” and hear Democrat Dick Kneip from Salem question Farrar’s leadership during a blizzard, as dairy farmers dumped milk because they were snowed in.

In 1968, Farrar defeated Democrat Robert Chamberlin 159,646 to 117,260 and captured majorities in all but four of the state’s then-67 counties. But in 1970, Henderson took on Farrar in the Republican primary. Farrar turned back the challenge, with 48,520 votes to Henderson’s 34,893, but no longer looked invincible.

Kneip made Farrar into South Dakota’s latest one-term elected governor. Kneip won the general election 131,616 to 108,347, and finished ahead of Farrar in 52 counties.

“I think Rudy Henderson softened Farrar up to the point that Kneip could beat him quite easily,” Wollman said Tuesday. “The person that harmed Frank Farrar’s chances of a second term was Frank Henderson.”

Kneip even won in Marshall County, where Farrar lived before moving to Pierre, 1,347 to 1,333. Two years earlier, Farrar had won the county handily, beating Chamberlin 1,944 to 1,106. Wollman suggested that state Senator Art Jones, a Democrat from the Britton area, likely had much to do with it; Jones was not only the Senate’s Democrat leader but was chairman of the board for Basin Electric, supplier of electricity to many rural co-ops.

Wollman served as Senate Democrat leader from 1971 through 1974 and won election as lieutenant governor with Kneip in 1974. He narrowly lost the 1978 Democratic primary for governor to Roger McKellips of Alcester. But he ascended to governor the next month when Kneip resigned on July 24, 1978, to accept a U.S. ambassador post. Republican Bill Janklow defeated McKellips that November and South Dakota voters have since elected only Republicans as governor.

Wollman said Farrar wrote a letter recommending Wollman for induction by the South Dakota Hall of Fame. That eventually led to them both attending the annual Custer State Park buffalo roundup. One afternoon there, they walked to the top of Harney Peak (now named Black Elk Peak). That’s when Farrar told Wollman he felt his decision to commute the death sentence of convicted killer and rapist Thomas White Hawk hurt his re-election bid.

Wollman also knew people who felt Farrar had wrecked the Republican establishment’s version of their party. That’s not how Wollman saw Farrar. “I so respected the new era of thinking,” Wollman said. “If anybody ever deserved a second term, he did.”

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