We think of addiction to prescription medications as a growing problem that’s new to KELOLAND.  But in fact, people abused meds going back decades, including one Sioux Falls man who would become a pioneer in the field of addiction recovery.   Glenn Jorgenson started South Dakota’s very first private, non-profit recovery center.  For two decades River Park served addicts in Sioux Falls, Pierre and Rapid City.  Jorgenson still firmly believes “It’s Great To Be Alive.”

For many years Glenn Jorgenson was the face of addiction in South Dakota.

“There was very little going on before we got started, yeah,” Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson hosted a TV show called “It’s Great To Be Alive!” where guests, many of them celebrities, shared how addiction impacted their lives and their loved ones.  The guests spoke candidly about drug and alcohol abuse.  A topic good families just didn’t talk about back then

“You didn’t dare admit that you had an alcoholic husband, you probably wouldn’t ever be welcomed in church,” Jorgenson said.

The show not only helped remove some of the stigma of addiction, it also told viewers what resources were available to help addicts, including Jorgenson’s own River Park.

“We were known for having beautiful settings, very comfortable and staff that was very understanding and kind and treated them like people because they need that to get built up again,” Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson started River Park while he, himself, was in recovery.  He had just spent three weeks at a Minnesota treatment facility and wanted to bring a similar service to South Dakota.

“I was not in very good shape.  I was still withdrawing from a heavy amount of drugs, but it wasn’t something I can say that I sat down and said, okay, we’re going to do this, it just kind of happened,” Jorgenson said.

The fact that River Park happened at all is an amazing accomplishment considering how addiction had consumed Jorgenson.   He was not only an alcoholic, he was also addicted to prescription painkillers.

“You take that and wash it down with alcohol, that’s, I’m pretty lucky to be alive,” Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson hit rock-bottom when his wife presented him with an ultimatum.

“I remember her standing there kind of vaguely, because I was pretty much out of it.  But she said Glenn, I love you, I’d do anything I could to help you, but I can’t help you and either you get help, or me and the girls are gone,” Jorgenson said.

“It just got to the point where I just could not do that anymore, it was just too physically impossible,”  Phyllis Jorgenson said.

Phyllis Jorgenson’s threat to leave motivated Glenn to get the help he needed.  He’s been sober ever since.

“I like him!” Phyllis said.

Phyllis started a family program at River Park to help addicts’ loved ones cope with their own challenges.

“You can’t change him, or her, but you can change yourself, that’s the only person you have power over anyway and when you do, things are going to change, somehow,” Phyllis Jorgenson said.

Whenever the Jorgensons step outside the front door of their home, they can look around the corner and see the old River Park facility located next-door.  It’s a constant reminder of the thousands of lives they touched throughout the years.

“When I run into alumni and I realize it’s not just that person but all the people they’ve touched, it goes on and on and on, you know,” Jorgenson said.

That ripple effect is still present more than 25 years after River Park closed.  Jorgenson is encouraged by the growth of other treatment centers across South Dakota.  He says programs offered today are far more advanced in helping addicts.  But it was Jorgenson, those many years ago, who paved the way for others to follow him on the road to recovery.   

Jorgenson remains a strong advocate for drug and alcohol treatment.  He serves on the advisory board that announced plans for the  Avera Addiction Care Center in Sioux Falls earlier this month.  The center is expected to open next year.  

Meanwhile, Phyllis Jorgenson plans to write a book about her struggles with Glenn’s addiction, to help other families who have loved ones battling addictions of their own..

If you’d like to watch episodes from the “It’s Great To Be Alive” series, click here