Young Leaders Riding High in Buffalo, SD

On The Road

“Taylor and I have traveled all the way to the far northwest corner of KELOLAND. We’re in Buffalo, South Dakota in Harding County home Tipperary, the famous bucking horse, prehistoric dinosaurs, as well as a three-toed wolf and now one of the youngest Chambers of Commerce in KELOLAND, said KELOLAND On the Road host, Mike Huether.

“There’s a lot of them that, you know, they put their time in, and they just want to see the town advance.  And so, it excites them to see younger people coming back to, to kind of take over the mantle, that they work so hard at all these years.  And they’re, I think they’re thrilled to see young people taking, taking the lead in the community,” said former Harding County Chamber of Commerce President, Billy Clanton. :

History and generational pride run deep in Harding County, but now, younger forces are staking their own claim.  33-year-old 5th generation rancher, Billy Clanton, is one of them. “I counted the other day, there’s about 55 young families and ranchers that have come back that are under 40 years old.  In the area, that’s in Harding County.  We have an oil field that drives some people, there’s, there’s young teachers that have come back that grew up here,” said Clanton. “Think like I do and want to come back and join the community and carry on the legacy of our town.”

29-year-old Sam Olson, a Black Hills State graduate and business owner is another. “We’re growing, the young people, we have had a lot of turnover. The ranchers are passing on to the next generation, which is really fun.  And has made for a lot of, you know, momentum right now with just the excitement around town and in rejuvenating the community, which is awesome,” said Sam Olson.

The makeup of the town’s business community is changing.  Wally Stephens, who moved to Buffalo in 1966 and taught here for 52 years, has noticed. “But at the same time, we got people coming in, into businesses setting up their own businesses. There only craft businesses or whatever, and actually getting into business on Main Street,” said Wally Stephens. “So not only are the ranches getting younger again, but Main Street Buffalo is, is getting younger, too?” asked Huether. “Right,” said Stephens.

What was so unique about our visit out West, was how this younger generation has taken on critical leadership roles here. “If you make your living in this community, I, you know, I believe you have a responsibility to, to at least advance it in some way.  It doesn’t have to be much.  It can be two hours a year, you know, doing whatever, but just something, identify something that you, that interests you, and then to, to give back to your community so we can keep them sustaining,” said Clanton.
Still in his 30s, Billy serves on the Harding County Chamber of Commerce.  He is the past- President.   Sam, who is five years out of college is the current President.  He isn’t even reached age 30 yet. “From a young age, I guess, I felt like when there was a task to be done, that, that you should step up and do it to the best of your ability.  And in a small town, you don’t always necessarily have to, to run for a position as much as, just show up.  And you’ll be put in a position and, and I think that, that’s probably how it started.  But… but once I got there, I felt like I needed to put… put forth the effort to do my part to make Buffalo a better place, said Sam Olson.

“I find it highly unusual to have a 29 year-old Chamber President, a 28 year old Vice President, 33 year old members here and there, that is highly unusual across KELOLAND,” said Mike Huether.
“Some of us, have got a little long in the tooth, you know, after 50 some years in the Chamber, then you want to start encouraging young people to get involved,” said Wally Stephens.

So, about 90% of the Harding County Chamber is made up of young people.  How did this happen in ranch country? “About five or six years ago, that the older members of the Chamber really made and effort to recruit us. And you know, reached out to younger people to try to get to get some turnover in the organization,” said Billy Clanton. “The older generation really, you know, passed us the reins and said, you know, ‘Here you go.  These are some of the things that we’ve had happen.  But you know what, you do with it from now on.  It’s all up to you.’ So, it’s been fun to have that support moving forward,” said Sam Olson.

Wally is one of those doing the encouraging. “I said at one of the meetings.  I said, ‘You know, older people, we’ve had our time, we’ve done our thing, and we succeeded and we failed, but we kept it going.’  And we have our young people in here now, in leadership positions.  Our job is not to say ‘no, it isn’t going to work.’ Our job is to say ‘give it shot. We’re behind you’,” said Stephens.

An important turning point occurred on a big decision for the annual Labor Day celebration. “There’s a lot of just sitting around staring at each other, and nobody wants to make a decision.  So, we were talking about booking, booking a band and one of the older members is just, there was 30 seconds left in the meeting, she said, ‘Oh just book them. We’ll figure it out later,’ ” said Billy Clanton.

So, it looks like Buffalo and Harding County are in capable hands, regardless of the challenges living out in ranch country may bring. “As everyone knows in agriculture, there’s good years and bad years, but there’s a lot of struggles that go with it and to be able to pass those on and those traditions of how you get through that, and, and clinging together as a community.  I think that, that’s just been I think that’s one thing that just makes Harding County special,” said Sam Olson.

“I don’t think any of us are naïve to the population trends of rural America.  I think we know, you know, that small towns across the country are shrinking.  So, I can’t tell you what Buffalo will look like 100 years from now.  But I know with what we have in place now, the next 20 to 30 looks pretty good,” said Billy Clanton.  A trip to Buffalo is certainly worth the trek just to see the beauty that surrounds it. You have Slim Buttes on one side, the short and long pines on the other, along with the cave hills and so much more.

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