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River Cities' Ron Baumgart induction into DOT Hall of Honor set for Sept. 5 in Fort Pierre

“I was put in the lead of the River Cities Public Transit (RCPT) on November 1, 2001, with four employees and myself, an annual budget of $179,000, and a debt of $125,000,” said Ron Baumgart, of Pierre, director of the RCPT. “The RCPT was in dire straights. I had lots of help in turning it around. As a former county commissioner, I mustered up support to get it [the debt] back to zero … it was three months before I could cash my own paycheck.”

Baumgart is being inducted into the South Dakota Transportation Hall of Honor. The Transportation Hall of Honor committee will hold a banquet in Baumgart’s honor on Thursday, Sept. 5, at Drifters Bar and Grill in Fort Pierre. Festivities begin at 5:30 p.m. (CDT), with dinner at 6 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m.

“Ron has spent the past 18 years as the director of River Cities Public Transit in Pierre,” said DOT Public Relations Officer Kristi Sandal. “His contribution to the transit industry is unparalleled. He has spent his career looking for new ways to improve the transit systems across the state of South Dakota. As a leader, Ron has received national awards for his success in integrating his business principles into rural public transit. Ron’s passion for low-cost, high-value public transit is reflected in the continued success of RCPT. Ron’s determination to secure funding from a variety of sources helped him realize his vision of reliable public transit for everyone, but especially veterans and those with disabilities.”

RCPT is a private nonprofit agency dedicated to providing transportation services to individuals with disabilities, the elderly, low income and the general public of Hughes, Stanley, Hand, Hyde, Dewey Ziebach, Haakon, East Pennington, North half of Jackson, Jones and Lyman counties.

The RCPT provides quality, dependable and efficient transportation for central South Dakota. RCPT receives funds for the operation of the project from federal, state and local sources. These funds help keep RCPT fares affordable to the riders in this region who have minimal funds available for transportation, but still need to be mobile in their communities.

RCPT has added four satellite agencies under its umbrella: Cheyenne River Sioux Transit, East Pennington County Transit, Haakon County Prairie Transit and Hyde County Transit. These agencies are noted for providing transportation for medical appointments, Veterans and youth.

“In 2019, we have just less than 100 employees — 75 full-time — in our Pierre area operations. We have 22 people, and that many busses, in Yankton. We have six full-time employees in Sioux Falls. Cheyenne and Haakon County and our other satellites, making up 11 mid-state counties, are included in our Pierre area operation. The RCPT is a $5.8 million funds operation, with $1 million in capital expenses such as busses, software and other purchases. Our total vehicles is right at 100, with quite of variety in the fleet.”

Most of the maintenance for the mid-state part of the RCPT is done in the Pierre shop. “We do most of it ourselves,” said Baugart. “To my knowledge, it is the only rural public transportation in the nation that works 24 hours seven days a week.”

“I still enjoy it,” said Baumgart. “Seriously, I didn’t get this honor without a great staff. Last couple of years we figured out how to operate as a team; a tremendous asset to the company. I’m sure I’m the first honoree who has something just with public transportation. It’s getting public transportation recognized, that’s important.”

The state Transportation Hall of Honor was started in 1972 and has 91 inductees, including Baumgart. The Hall is “to recognize those individuals who have made a lasting, valuable or unique contribution to South Dakota’s air, highway, public transit or rail transportation system,” according to the DOT’s news release.

Cost of the banquet is $30 with payment requested in advance. To make reservations and payments, call Kari Kroll, executive secretary, at 605-773-5105 no later than September 2.

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Tornado injures 2, destroys buildings in Burke

A tornado hit Burke, South Dakota, in Gregory County, on Tuesday, Aug. 6, injuring two people and destroying buildings, including at the public school, according to the National Weather Service and city officials.

Gov. Kristi Noem was slated to visit Burke on Wednesday afternoon.

The tornado hit Burke from about 10:25 to 10:33 p.m., Aug. 6, covering 3.8 miles on the ground with a path as wide as 75 yards, according to the weather service.

Burke, a town of about 586 that is 125 miles southeast of Pierre, was closed to outsiders on Wednesday because of the storm damage and the need to aid the recovery process, city officials said via social media.

About noon, city officials told the public, via the city’s Facebook page: “You are not allowed in Burke at the moment unless you are emergency personnel.”

A main concern was the school, which lost large buildings to the tornado.

The Burke school board and administrators met at noon, Wednesday, “to discuss the next plan of action on when and where school will take place. We are waiting for insurance and contractors to come in and access our buildings. We know everyone wants to help but right now we ask that people just stay out.”

Gov. Noem posted a video on Facebook by evening Wednesday, showing her standing in front of a wrecked building in Burke, wearing a cap and denim jeans and shirt. Despite the destruction, she said a lot of progress was made Wednesday.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a community respond like this before,” Noem said. “Unfortunately we are very experienced at it this year.”

Noem said the tornado’s damage comes on the heels of widespread flooding and other weather-related issues across the state where already 58 of the 66 counties have had to declare emergencies because of disasters.

It means this year has seen more natural disasters than any in South Dakota’s history, Noem said.

The tornado is the fifth disaster to hit Burke and Gregory County this year, Noem said.

Which will save some paperwork, she said, because the counting up of the damage can be “wrapped up together” with two previous disaster aid applications.

Noem said the two people injured are doing well, although one underwent surgery Wednesday.

The other made a remarkable recovery after being pinned down with storm debris across his legs Tuesday night.

“I met him out in his yard picking up branches,” Noem said.

The tornado was part of a storm system that blew across much of central South Dakota, damaging crops and buildings and vehicles.

In Sully County and in Bowdle, South Dakota, hail the size of baseballs fell, according to residents who shared photos on social media, with corroboration from the weather service.

Winds as high as 78 mph hit a mile south-southwest of Blunt, 30 miles northeast of Pierre.

Hail 3 inches wide fell 8 miles north-northwest of Blunt and other areas down to the Big Bend along the Missouri River southeast of Pierre.

The storm mostly missed Pierre and Fort Pierre.

Extensive crop damage has been reported across the region.

According to the weather service: “During the evening hours of August 6, 2019, a cluster of severe thunderstorms moved across central South Dakota and into northern Nebraska. These severe storms produced dangerous hail greater than 3” along with damaging straight-line winds.

“As this storm moved into Gregory county in south central South Dakota, a tornado rapidly developed in town of Burke. This tornado produced significant damage to portions of the city center, including the school, civic center, local lumberyard and many surrounding businesses and homes. Weather service storm survey specialists rated this tornado as an EF-1, with peak wind speeds estimated at or near 110 mph, on the enhanced Fujita scale.”

In the early evening on Wednesday, Burke city officials posted a curfew announcement: “While we are all going through this difficult time, it is in the best interest of public safety, all residents are asked to remain off the streets from 8 p.m. tonight until 7 a.m. tomorrow morning. Thank you for all the help and support during today’s efforts.”

Burke is the hometown of Billie Sutton, longtime Democratic state senator who ran for governor in 2018, losing a hard-fought race to Gov. Noem.

It’s top official census was 892 people in 1970 and 604 were counted in 2010; Census officials estimated the population had declined to 586 by 2016.

The city has a historical link to a prominent Pierre family tied to the large community bank, BankWest.

Burke is named after early and longtime South Dakota Congressman, U.S. Rep. Charles H. Burke, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives most of the time from 1895 to 1915, including a stint as Minority whip for the Republicans. He ran for the U.S. Senate in 1914 and lost. He was appointed federal Commissioner of Indian affairs in 1921 and served until 1929.

Family lore has it that in September 1889, two months before South Dakota became a state and about 15 years before the city of Burke was formed, New York native Charles H. Burke walked into a newly formed bank in Pierre as its first customer.

Burke, after his stint in Congress, became a director of the bank. His son, Walter Burke, in the 1920s, became the first of a long line of Burkes who worked for the bank that is led by “C3,” Charles Burke III, the great great grandson of Charles H. Burke. C3’s children are the fifth generation of Burkes who have worked for and/or led what is now known as BankWest with branches in several cities, according to bank officials.

Record number of entries in annual Backyard BBQ competition

Nineteen contestants will compete in the Verendrye Museum’s third annual Backyard BBQ Competition on Saturday, August 17, in Fort Pierre’s Fischer’s Lilly Park, starting at 5 p.m. The Backyard BBQ Competition is part of Fort Pierre Trader Days, August 16 — 18.

“The majority of the contestants are local businesses and ranches,” said Cindy Lea Bahe on behalf of the Verendrye Museum. “Though entries are now closed, sponsors and contributors are still welcome. The barbecue is our main fundraiser of the year.”

Competitors paid a $100 entry fee, most of which will be paid back in prizes. This year’s contestants include: A-G-E, Bad River Mafia 1 & 2, Beck Motors Camping Crew, Bottom Line Welding, Burnt Offerins, Chase Auto, Cowboy Country Store, Dakota Prairie Bank, First National Bank, Fort Pierre Fire Dept., Graham Tire, Grossenburg Implement, Inman’s Water, Prairie ATV, Prairie Traders, Sioux Nation, Zander Auto and Zay Norman Ranch.

The contestants will compete for first, second and third place prizes from the team of judges, as well as a People’s Choice Award from the public taste-testers. Each person trying samples may put in their vote for who they think should win the People’s Choice Award.

The 2017 competition saw just three entries.

“It takes a while to get off the ground,” said Bahe. “I think the increase of contestants is a combination of things. It’s a fun event. And, the board members went after more sponsors.”

She particularly noted efforts by Darby Nutter, Brian Scott and Deb Schiefelbein.

The 2018 competition saw eight contestants. The 2018 People’s Choice Award went to Nutter and the Bad River Mafia. They kept the bragging rights but donated their winnings back to the museum.

Bahe hopes contest entries continue to double in coming years.

“Bring your appetite! We encourage your votes,” Bahe said.

The public is invited to sample all the entries for $10 per person, payable on site. Kids 8 and under may eat at the barbecue for free. Pop, water and beer will be available for purchase. Proceeds go to the Verendrye Museum, which is undergoing major renovations.

Friends of Rawlins Library to hold Story Walk August 14

The Friends of Rawlins Library will host their first-ever Story Walk in Hilger’s Gulch, Wednesday, August 14.

The walk is for kids of all ages, but especially geared toward pre-kindergarten through second grade. The multi-stationed walk has activity stations where children can read, or be read to, the pages from a book and do a coloring activity. Eventually, after many stops, the book will be concluded and the kids will have completed their correlating project.

“The laminated pages of the book are displayed along the walk,” said Brenda Hemmelman, vice president of the Friends. “A parent, guardian or caregiver will help their kids at each of the story stops. The little kiddoes will have an activity, such as coloring.”

For this first-time event, the selected book is “Dog’s Colorful Day.”

The event is geared around that theme: The dog character in the book gets into mischief. Because of a paint mishap, food mishaps, and other run-ins, he gets spots of different colors on his coat.

Two or three dogs from Paws Animal Rescue, Pierre’s dog shelter, will be at the Story Walk there for the kids to pet and play with.

As they go along, the kids can continue coloring their pictures. “By the end, they will have a very colorful little dog they can take home as a memento of their story walk,” said Hemmelman.

South Dakota Former First Lady Linda Daugaard used to hold similar Story Walks at the governor’s residence.

“Now that her’s have fell by the way, we as Friends of the Library board thought we would continue the idea,” said Hemmelman. “It is also a free-will fundraiser for the Friends of the Library. Hopefully this will be the first of an annual event; once every summer. I think it will be fun. Hopefully will have a lot of kids.”

We Love Kids party gives away 350 pairs of shoes

New Life Church in Pierre invited families to their annual We Love Kids Parties, which have grown in recent years. On Saturday, July 27, some 75 volunteers gave away more than 350 pairs of shoes to kids during this year’s We Love Kids Party .

“All kids kindergarten through fifth grade may pick up a free pair of shoes for the school year. Best of all, everything is completely free and open to the whole family,” said lead pastor Jake Krahn. “Last year we gave away about 330 pairs of shoes, and I believe around 300 the year before.”

“The We Love Kids Party is an opportunity for New Life Church to love and give back to our community,” said office administrator Lyssa Bruzeliu. “For us, providing a fun-filled day where kids and families are able to have a need met is something we look forward to every year. I can say that our hope in the years looking forward is that we are able to reach even more families through this event. We want to serve our community with our absolute best, and we want kids to have new school shoes every year. It’s an exciting event that continues to grow, and one that we hope shows our hearts for this community.”

“This is our sixth time doing this party,” Krahn said. “We started doing it in 2013. All the shoes are brand new and are donated mostly from people in our church, though we also get some donations from a few businesses. Our prize giveaways are gift certificates to local businesses.”

The theme this year was Hawaiian Beach Day.

“We had lots of flamingos posted in front of the church and other decorations,” Bruzeliu said. ”Last year’s theme was Tootie Frootie — really a fruit-thing and fruit-color thing. It was fun. The hotdog lunch was kind of a summer classic.”

This year, the free event included bounce houses and face painting. Families posed in front of a Hawaiian backdrop at a photo booth and could take their photos home. Fun giveaways included $25 gift certificates to restaurants and activity places.

For more information about We Love Kids Parties, contact the church at (605) 224-1592.