Remembering a South Dakota pioneer in addiction treatment

Local News

SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — He was the longtime public face of addiction in South Dakota. Glenn Jorgenson, the founder of the state’s first private, non-profit treatment center called River Park, died last week at the age of 91. Jorgenson’s family reflected Thursday on his legacy of helping families across South Dakota overcome the challenges of addiction, a disease Jorgenson himself, knew all too well.

Glenn Jorgenson’s alcoholism and addiction to prescription painkillers fueled his unwavering desire to give hope to others facing the same struggles.

“I think he was just obsessed with getting people help for their addictions,” Jorgenson’s wife Phyllis Jorgenson said.

Jorgenson started the River Park treatment center in 1970, just weeks after undergoing treatment in Minnesota.

“There was very little going on before we got started, yeah,” Jorgenson said in 2018.

“We knew nothing. We just stepped in and a lot of prayers, and did what we should do at the time,” Phyllis Jorgenson said.

Through the years, River Park expanded from Sioux Falls to facilities in Rapid City and Pierre. Jorgenson also hosted a show that aired on KELOLAND TV called It’s Great to be Alive. His interviews with celebrities like Johnny Cash and Dick Van Dyke helped break down the stigma surrounding addiction.

“He was aware that people just thought of addiction as only bums and people didn’t go to treatment because they might lose their job if it was known,” Phyllis Jorgenson said.

Today, Jorgenson’s daughter works as a therapist helping families impacted by addiction.

“It is the field of helping people deal with problems. Become more of who they’re supposed to be and that was his big vision, helping people become more of who they were meant to be,” Jorgenson’s daughter Jennifer Burns said.

Jorgenson lived to reach the age of 91, despite his battles with addiction as well as surviving stage-four cancer. He was a living proof that through all the challenges, it truly is great to be alive.

“He’s a warrior. He fought the good fight over and over again,” Burns said.

Jorgenson’s visitation is Friday evening at Heritage Funeral Home in Sioux Falls. His funeral is Saturday morning at Abiding Savior Free Lutheran Church.

Memorials are being directed to Emily’s Hope, Volunteers of America and the Avera Health Addiction Care Center.

You can watch an in-depth interview we did with Jorgenson in 2018, when he shared what it took for him to finally get the help he needed to live a sober life.

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