Wednesday night is a big night for South Dakota law enforcement as hundreds of police officers, sheriff’s deputies and federal agents gather in Sioux Falls for the 38th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner and Children’s Charity fundraiser.
Before we tell you about the event, we wanted to take a look back at its humble beginnings and how it’s grown into what’s now believed to be the largest gathering of its kind in the country.
The late Gene Abdallah, who died earlier this month at the age of 83, started the appreciation dinner back in 1982.
“I cleaned out my freezer, I had some geese and ducks and pheasants and other people contributed,” Abdallah said.
It was his first year as a U.S. Marshal.
Abdallah used his statewide connections and organized the event where all levels of law enforcement from across the state could come together on an annual basis to share stories and foster friendships.
Over the years the game feed grew, but Abdallah kept a hands on approach to the event; inspecting a lot of the food personally before it was cooked.
The appreciation dinner, which had 53 attendees in the first year has now grown to 2,000 attendees annually raising millions of dollars for children’s charities; like Make-A-Wish, CMN and the South Dakota Special Olympics.
In a recent interview, Minnehaha County Sheriff Mike Milstead talked about Abdallah’s heart of gold and summed it up best this way.
“While he seems so tough on the outside I think what he’s done with children’s charities shows how soft he was on the inside,” Milstead said.