Taylor and I are in downtown Ft. Pierre, South Dakota. Where we’re gonna introduce you to a 90 year old woman who, yeah…, may be tough as nails on the outside but couldn’t be warmer on the inside.
“One of the things that we like to joke about is that nobody says ‘No’ to Pat Duffy. And you know why that is? Because we all know when she calls me and asks me to volunteer or asks me to help with an event or whatever it is, you don’t say ‘no’. Because you know she’s giving twice as much as she’s asking for,” said Gloria Hanson.
That is Ft. Pierre, South Dakota’s 3 term mayor, Gloria Hanson relaying the virtues of long-time resident Pat Duffy. Jerry Kleinsasser, former Stanley County School Superintendent was the first to tell me about Pat.
“Pat Duffy has done so much for the community of Ft. Pierre. This youth center is to Ft. Pierre what baseball, hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet is to America. Just like Yankee Stadium is the house Babe Ruth built, the community center is the house Pat Duffy built,” said Jerry Kleinsasser.
Taylor and I knew we were in for a treat from the first moment we met Pat.
“I wasn’t afraid to work. I was brought up, brought up working. My father used to say ‘work from when you can’t see in the morning till you can’t see at night.’ Kind of the way she goes,” said Pat Duffy.
Pat went to work at age 14 at the grain elevator with her Dad Charles Kirsch. Heck, there was no high school anyway in Naples so Pat tells everybody “I graduated from the school of hard knocks instead. I learned how to do books. My Dad’s books. He said, ‘You got a debit and a credit and they got to balance.’ That was my education,” said Pat Duffy.
Pat moved to Ft. Pierre in 1962 when she married Ed Duffy, who owned Duffy’s Café. The couple decided to build another bar and restaurant next door called The Chateau. Pat told me, “I am not so sure he didn’t marry me because I was a bartender.”
“Ed ran the kitchen and Pat ran the bar and lounge. And she ran the bar and lounge with an iron hand. There was very little if any foul language used in the place and there were very few ruckuses. As I said, she kept things in line,” said Jerry Kleinsasser.
Ed and Pat eventually built one of the most famous steakhouses in central South Dakota. That wasn’t all that this popular couple established in Ft. Pierre.
“He was such an important person as, as a merchant. And as a, as a business leader. He and Pat were so devoted to the rodeos and rodeo work is part of our tradition for so many years,” said Gloria Hanson.
The youth in town were so underserved at the time. Pat and her good friend Judy Bouchie led the charge to fix the problem.
“Judy was always taking kids home and taking care of them. There was no place for kids to go and so she asked me if I could help her. If we could go find, build something or have something for the kids. Place for the kids to go,” said Pat Duffy.
So many folks ended up donating their time, talent and yes, their money to the cause. Pat’s brother in law donated $50,000 to get everything started.
“We built the whole outside of the thing, the floor and the outside, nothing finished on the inside, for $160,000. And we had the $50,000 down so the bank didn’t say no. And we, and all the inside originally, all the inside of it was done with volunteer labor,” recalls Pat Duffy. “It got so when there’s a parade or anything, nobody would answer the phone when I called them.”
The Ft. Pierre Youth Center was built in 1980 and it was such a blessing for many, especially the kids.
“The old cliché is ‘It takes a village to make a child’, and the community center is without a doubt, a big, big part of that village,” said Jerry Kleinsasser.
But remember, it was built volunteers over 40 years ago so it needed to be updated, rebuilt or torn down.
“It was built by volunteers. So, was everything up to code? Probably not. Was the roof leaking? Yah. It was either make the decision to spend some money on it or tear it down,” said Gloria Hanson.
It took a bunch of Ft. Pierre teamwork to make it happen. Scott Jones stepped up, donated a big-time check, and then graciously named the new facility the Pat Duffy Community and Youth Involved Center.
“What we thought was going to be a $500,000 project turned into $1.2 million. But it’s done,” said Gloria Hanson.
“Mayor, proud of you,” said Mike Huether.
“It’s amazing. It’s amazing,” said Gloria Hanson.
With the continued support of the city, the county, United Way, and numerous volunteers and donors, it is doing well. Of course, all under the watchful eyes of Pat Duffy.
“It’s her life. Has been her life. The Chateau was her life. The youth center is her life. And she just enjoys it. It’s in her blood,” said Jerry Kleinsasser.
“She didn’t run a rowdy bar so many years for nothing. And she didn’t get that nickname Miss Kitty for nothing. She has a steel exterior, but she’s marshmallow on the inside. She cares so much. And it shows,” said Gloria Hanson.
Well, Miss Kitty just celebrated her 90th birthday with the kids she cares so much about. And they showed that they care about her too.
“The kids had gifts, they had made big cards, they had little speeches and songs. And I remember one little boy said, ‘Miss Pat. Tomorrow, I am going wave at you again. And I am going to wave at you until you die.’ And she just smiled from ear to ear,” said Gloria Hanson.
Around 1970 one of the Chateau customers gave Pat the nickname “Miss Kitty” and of course, her husband Ed was given the nickname “Matt Dillon”. Pat has “Miss Kitty” as her license plate and can drive at least until 2025 according to her drivers license.