2013-02-28 / Columns

From the Heartland

By Allan Burke

Last week’s balmy weather is expected to continue for the next seven days with highs ranging from 24 to 33 degrees and lows that sound more like February highs—13 to 20 degrees. There is no mention of snow or rain. The heartland again dodged the big snows that hit the Upper Midwest recently.

Small World


My two political heroes from the first half of the 20th Century are Sen. Bill Langer of North Dakota and Sen. Peter Norbeck of South Dakota. Both were part of or influenced by the Non- Partisan League and left a legacy of accomplishments.

For Langer, it is the Bank of North Dakota, the North Dakota State Mill, the capitol and a long list of pro-consumer and pro-farmer legislation passed when he was governor.

In the case of Norbeck, it is Mount Rushmore, Custer State Park, Iron Mountain Road and the Needles Highway, all in the Black Hills. He was also responsible for the State Cement Plant that delivered millions of dollars of profit and high quality cement to the state until it was unwisely sold a few years ago. Many years ago, I located his grave in the cemetery near the ghost town of Bloomington, S.D., and I had the privilege of spending an evening in Pierre with his son, Harold.

Both men were progressive Republicans, and both possessed a strong independent streak, a trait I admire in politicians.

Last week, while reading the online Rapid City Journal, I found a story about the Charles Mix County Historical Restoration Society’s effort to restore the Norbeck boyhood home at Geddes. It was moved from the family farm to the museum grounds in recent years and is in need of repairs.

Wanting to donate to the cause, I e-mailed the City of Geddes to find out where to send our small contribution. The prompt response directed me to SharonAckley, a member of the city council who is active in the restoration society along with her husband, Jerry.

As it turns out, my family lived next door to hers in Pierre when we lived there from 1957-59. She and her sister, Cleo, were like big sisters to me and were contemporaries of my brother, Ed, who is five years older than me. Consequently, Sharon and I have been exchanging e-mails about our families and our Pierre days.

Now, I am even more enthusiastic about the restoration project, so I am going to donate my small collection of Norbeck memorabilia to the museum. My favorite item is a booklet that fits in a shirt pocket. It is entitled “What Norbeck Has Done for the South Dakota Farmer, 1916-1932.” The 16 pages inside are blank. Who said all advertising was positive in the old days?

Trapped in a storm

Sharon told me she had been through the heartland a long time ago. A Pierre High School student, she was on a school bus transporting students from the Governor’s Day basketball game in Bismarck where the Pierre Governors played.

“It was snowing and blowing so bad the bus driver couldn’t see, and he pulled into Linton,” Sharon recalled. “The only place they could put a bus full of kids was in the basement of the City Hall.”

She remembers there was a jail in the building. Today, the building is used for storage, having once housed City Hall and the National Guard armory.

“We were in the basement until the storm let up, and we went on our way back to Pierre,” Sharon said.

Norbeck Inn

In my researching Norbeck, I discovered the home he and his family owned in Pierre while he was governor from 1917-21. At that time, the state did not own a home for the governor. From 1889 until 1937, the legislature gave the governor a housing allowance of $75 per month, and the head of state had to find his own lodging.

The home of the Peter and Nellie Norbeck family is now operated as the Norbeck House Inn where rooms are available for $100-$150 per night. Gov. Norbeck would probably be shocked that he was paid $75 per month for his lodging expense, and now his house brings $25 to $75 per night more.

The sleeping rooms are named after family members, including one for the governor’s late son, Harold.

There are several other homes in Pierre that were occupied by governors prior to 1937, but this is the only one that operates as a hotel, to my knowledge.

I would like to find the home, if it is still standing, that Gov. Charles Nelson Herreid and his family owned. I located the Herreid home in Aberdeen, so maybe the Pierre house can be found.

Next time we are in Pierre on business, I’m hoping we can stay at the inn, unless there is room at the Herreids’.

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