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Wade Sundell from Boxholm, IA, scored 86 points on this horse from Burch Rodeo to make it three straight wins at the Casey Tibbs Match of Champions. Sundell has won the Casey Tibbs Match of Championship five times.

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Madison pastor, German native, elected bishop of SD synod of ELCA; succeeds former Pierre pastor

The Rev. Constanze Hagmaier was elected Saturday in Sioux Falls as bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, succeeding former Pierre pastor, the Rev. David Zellmer. She will be installed to a six-year term on Sept. 1. Zellmer was pastor of Lutheran Memorial Church in Pierre from 1993 to 2007 when he was elected bishop. (Photo from SD Synod)

The Rev. Constanze Hagmaier was elected bishop of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Saturday, June 1, in Sioux Falls, to succeed Bishop David Zellmer, who was a pastor in Pierre from 1993-2007.

Hagmaier, a native of Germany who first visited South Dakota as a high school exchange student, is administrative pastor of Trinity Lutheran in Madison.

Zellmer, 65, has served two six-year terms as bishop and was not eligible for a third term.

He will remain bishop until Hagmaier takes over Sept. 1; she will be installed in a ceremony on Sept. 7 in Sioux Falls.

With about 100,000 baptized members in 204 congregations, the ELCA’s South Dakota Synod is the second-largest Christian denomination in the state after the Roman Catholic Church, which has about 164,000 baptized members in the dioceses of Rapid City and Sioux Falls.

 There are about 50,000 Lutherans in other, more conservative, denominations in the state, mostly the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, which has about 30,000 baptized members in South Dakota.

According to a news release from the South Dakota Synod, based in Sioux Falls, the ELCA is "known as the church of 'God's work. Our hands.,' (and) emphasizes the saving grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ, unity among Christians and service in the world. The ELCA's roots are in the writings of the German church reformer Martin Luther."

There are two ELCA congregations in Pierre: Lutheran Memorial where Zellmer was pastor for 14 years; and Resurrection Lutheran.

Hagmaier was elected on the fifth ballot, said Sawyer Vanden Heuvel, communications director for the Synod.

There were about 540 voting delegates, clergy and lay members at the synod assembly on Friday and Saturday in Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, Vanden Heuvel said.

Hagmaier was elected with 250 votes on the fifth ballot, edging out the Rev. Bill Tesch, associate to Bishop Zellmer, who received 247 at the synod assembly’s second day on Saturday.

Zellmer had been pastor of Lutheran Memorial Church across the street from the state Capitol in Pierre since 1993 when he was elected bishop of the synod on June 1, 2007, at the synod assembly at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, according to ELCA archives.

Zellmer succeeded Bishop Andrea DeGroot-Nesdahl, who had served two six-year terms as the synod’s first female bishop. She, in fact, was the second woman to serve as a synodical bishop in the entire ELCA, based in Chicago and the nation’s largest Lutheran body with about 3.4 million baptized members.

Born in Minneapolis, Zellmer has spent his 38-year career as a Lutheran pastor and bishop in South Dakota since he graduated from Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 1981.

Zellmer has been known to make friends and build relationships in and out of the ELCA and has maintained friendships with people in Pierre.

In late March, when state Circuit Judge Mark Barnett — who was state attorney general 1991-2002 — held a retirement mixer at Drifters in Fort Pierre, Zellmer was there to toast Barnett.

Hagmaier was born and grew up in Germany and came to high school in Brandon Valley, South Dakota, at 16, as a Rotary exchange student, according to her bio on the website of Trinity Lutheran in Madison.

She finished high school in Germany and studied for her Master of Divinity degree at Ruprecht Karl’s University in Heidelberg, Germany, where she met Dirk, whom she married in 1996. They immigrated to the United States in 2000 and she affiliated with Luther Seminary in St. Paul which qualified her for the clergy roster of the ELCA, Vanden Heuvel said. The Rev. Dirk Hagmaier is co-pastor at Trinity Lutheran in Madison.

Bishop-elect Hagmaier earlier served South Dakota congregations in Waubay, Aberdeen, Florence, Mitchell and Parkston before Trinity in Madison.

Unlike the Catholic church where bishops are appointed from Rome, the ELCA has a congregational polity in which 65 synodical bishops are elected by a vote of clergy and lay delegates at the synod assemblies. The ELCA seems to aim at having no more than one-third of the delegates be clergy.

There are 65 regional synods in the ELCA, including two in North Dakota, six in Minnesota and three in Iowa which, with South Dakota's single synod,  comprise about one-third of the ELCA’s total membership of 3.4 million. The ELCA presiding bishop is elected at the national assembly which includes lay and clergy delegates from each synod.

The first of the “ecclesiastical ballots,” held on Friday at the assembly in Sioux Falls was wide open and anyone’s name could be written in, Vanden Heuvel said. More than 30 names were on that ballot, he told the Capital Journal.

The second ballot ended up with seven pastors who were the effective finalists. All were from or pretty near Sioux Falls: three from Sioux Falls and one from Tea, a mile away; one from Brookings, one from Howard, which is just west of Madison, which is 50 miles northwest of Sioux Falls.

About the time Zellmer became bishop in 2007, the South Dakota Synod had about 250 congregations and about 122,000 baptized members. Since then, both those numbers have gone down about 19 percent, to about 204 congregations and 100,000 baptized members, in line with demographic changes in rural states and in mainline Protestant denominations in recent decades.

ELCA statistics show that average weekly attendance in the synod’s congregations totals about 24,000, or 24 percent of the baptized membership in the state. That figure has fallen 15 percent just since 2011.

Zellmer said last week on South Dakota Public Radio that one of his biggest challenges as bishop was recruiting young and new pastors from mostly large metro areas to come to a rural state where more than 60 percent of the ELCA pastors have retired the past 12 years.

Tales on the River

The Short Grass Arts Council is starting up its annual “Tales on the River” summer program this Thursday, June 6, with a story and storyteller that reach deep into the ancient past of the Dakotas.

“The story I’m going to tell is about the spirits,” Dakota storyteller Joyzelle Gingway Godfrey said. “It’s about the time before the humans and spirits separated into their separate realms.”

Every year since 2011, the Short Grass Arts Council hosts a summer series of storytellers, each with a tale drawn from their own experiences — or those of their ancestors — on the prairie and beyond. Short Grass Vice President Barb Wood said that while they always try to enlist a diverse set of speakers, it is important that the native peoples of the Dakotas be represented. After all, their stories were here long before anyone else’s.

“We always want a Native American artist to represent that community,” Wood said.

Thus, through a partnership with the South Dakota Humanities Council, Short Grass enlisted Godfrey, who grew up on the Crow Creek Reservation and has spent a lifetime collecting and collating the stories of the prairie’s original peoples. For her, it’s something of a family tradition.

Godfrey’s grandmother, Ella Deloria, was a prominent anthropologist, writer and teacher among many of the Sioux tribes of the Dakotas. Deloria was the first to record many of the different oral stories told by Sioux communities, and translated many important historical Native American texts into English. Her work continues to be influential in Anthropological circles to this day. Godfrey said she couldn’t help but be influenced by her grandmother’s work and the importance of the stories of her youth.

“My story is sort of a compilation of all those stories… when you grow up on a reservation, you end up doing a lot of ethnography without realizing it,” Godfrey said. She said she has been telling stories publicly for over 30 years.

The specific story she will tell at this week’s Tales on the River involves young twins, lost on the endless expanse of the prairie.

“It’s a story about twins that get lost on the prairie, of their own folly… but the spirits help them,” Godfrey said.

Godfrey will be the first of many speakers featured at Tales on the River, which runs every Thursday from this week until August 22, with the exception of July 4. Wood said the exact roster of storytellers is still being finalized, but that “we focus a lot on getting local people.”

This week’s Tale will be held at the Moose Lodge at 910 Deadwood Street in Fort Pierre. A welcoming meal will begin at 6:30 p.m., with Godfrey set to begin her story at 7. Attendance is free for all.

“Our audience has sometimes been 100-plus but on a regular basis we attract 40 to 60,” Wood said.

Godfrey said she hopes children, especially Native American children, will be in attendance on Thursday. Inspiring children is a big part of her raison d’etre.

“The reason I do this is for the kids… I thought the kids were losing that connection to the mythical,” she said. “When the kids hear these stories and they realize there’s something special, even magical, about them… Just, I see a light go on in their eyes.”

Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery - Six months paddling a dugout Canoe (part one)

“We are now several hundred miles within the bosom of this wild and mountanous country, where game may rationally be expected shortly to become scarce and subsistence precarious without any information with rispect to the country not knowing how far these mountains continue, or wher to direct our course to pass them to advantage or intersept a navigable branch of the Columbia, or even were we on such an onev the probability is that we should not find any timber within these mountains large enough for canoes if we judge from the portion of them through which we have passed.” — Meriwether Lewis at the Missouri Headwaters, July 27, 1805

The dream of carving a dugout canoe and paddling it down the river has long tickled my imagination. Last year I had the opportunity to carve that canoe and the privilege of working side-by-side with Churchill Clark, the great-great-great-great grandson of Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

This year, my friends and I launch the dugout as part of a small fleet of canoes embarking on a six-month “Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery” to explore the 2,341-mile river from its beginning near Three Forks, Montana, to its end, where the Missouri spills into the Mississippi at St. Louis.

Paddling the river in a dugout canoe is the realization of several persistent dreams that serendipitously came together for the journey. With my youngest out of the nest, I chose 2019 as the year I would embark on an adventure to either walk the Appalachian Trail, bicycle across the United States, or paddle the Missouri. This latter dream won out when the dugout canoe project came to fruition.

As president of the Jefferson River Chapter of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, and as a wilderness survival instructor with an emphasis on primitive skills and bushcraft, I had long dreamed of carving a dugout canoe, yet lacked a suitable tree for the project.

As Meriwether Lewis observed, large cottonwoods are scarce here above the Missouri headwaters where the larger plains cottonwood (populus deltoides) gives way to the skinnier narrowleaf cottonwood (P. angustifolia).

The dream resurfaced after connecting with Churchill Clark. He retraced the Lewis and Clark journey to the Pacific Ocean and back in a dugout canoe during the bicentennial, from 2004 to 2006, and now travels the country “carving dugout canoes and paddling trees.”

I found what seemed like a large enough tree, so Churchill came to Montana to oversee the project. However, as Churchill pointed out, there isn’t much left after removing the bark and the softer sapwood to expose the solid wood that makes a nice canoe. Anything less than 36 inches in diameter is too small for a good canoe, and my tree was just too small.

In a pinch and panic, we called around in search of a big enough tree. I ultimately bought a massive old Douglas fir from a sawmill. Douglas fir is not a traditional canoe wood, being hard and full of knots, and because it cracks and pops like popcorn as it dries, but we believed it would work. The knots necessitated extensive use of power tools to aid the traditional adze work. It took nearly three months of sawing, chopping, grinding, and sanding — plus a good bit of epoxy, linseed oil, and varnish — to turn the 10,000-pound log into a 500-pound canoe.

Early in the process, Churchill observed the image of a beaver face in the bow of the canoe and sculpted it into the design. I had merely envisioned a functional canoe, but he created a work of art, which is so beautiful that I ultimately named her Belladonna Beaver.

I was admittedly skeptical ahead of our first test of the canoe. We drove 260 miles to spend a week paddling the Marias River in north-central Montana, and it didn’t seem like there was enough water to float the boat. As Churchill noted, a cottonwood loses half its weight as it dries, while a Douglas fir loses only 10 percent. It is a very heavy canoe. Nevertheless, Belladonna Beaver floated beautifully and paddled like a dream. We enjoyed a week exploring the Marias River as a good test run to prepare for the Missouri Expedition.

My goal in leading this Missouri River Corps of Rediscovery isn’t merely to race to the end, but rather to paddle the river as a conduit for exploring the land and meeting its inhabitants. We will be botanizing, foraging, fishing, and hunting as we explore the geographical landscape and meet the indigenous and newly integrated flora, fauna, and human habitations.

It is also my goal to raise a minimum of $38,722 towards the purchase of a new public campsite on the Jefferson River Canoe Trail segment of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. That amount was the sum total cost of the original Corps of Discovery, according to Lewis’s post-expedition accounting. The fundraiser will help us secure matching grants for land acquisition, enhancing the river trail experience for generations to come.

We invite the public to join us for the journey through this weekly column or to find us along the way to paddle a stretch of the river together.

Thomas J. Elpel is the founder of Green University® LLC in Pony, Montana and the author of seven books. His video “Dugout Canoe Carving: The Story of Belladonna Beaver” has had more than one million views on YouTube. Please go to www.Elpel.info to learn more about the expedition and the fundraising effort for the Jefferson River Canoe Trail.

These types of notched arrowhead, found near the Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site in North Dakota, are indicative of technological developments that became widespread in the Woodlands / Northern Plains Village period. With a few areas of exception, the bow and arrow largely replaced the spear-throwing “atlatl” as the hunting weapon of choice across North America. (National Parks Service Photo /Common Use)

Apply for a top-known scholarship pageant

The Miss USA and Miss Teen USA National Pageants are now selecting contestants to participate in this year’s state pageants.

1 You must be a single female. Specifically, you must have never been married, never given birth, and are not pregnant).

2 There are age requirements. Miss USA contestants must be at least 18 years of age and under 28 years of age. Miss Teen USA contestants must be at least 14 years of age and under 19 years of age.

3 You must be a citizen of the United States, and will remain a citizen of the United States through the state pageant and, if you win the state pageant, through the national pageant. You must live in your state permanently and will have lived there for at least three months prior to the date of the pageant — OR — your must be a full time student in your state and will have completed one entire semester or session by December 31.

4 Be prepared to be judged in a personal interview, an evening gown competition, in a swimwear competition, and participate in two stage shows. A performing talent is not a requirement.

5 Complete the application form. Select a recent photo showing your head and shoulders. Submit the application. The selection committee will then consider you as a potential contestant, and will notify by mail if selected.

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Pierre jury: Snodgrass guilty on all counts of child rape, sex contact with child

After a week-long trial and about two-and-a-half hours of deliberation on Friday, a jury of nine men and three women found Brandon Snodgrass guilty of 12 counts of raping and sexually assaulting the daughter of his then-girlfriend from the time she was five until she was nine years old.

It means Snodgrass, 36, is convicted of eight charges which each carry a maximum sentence of life in prison as well as mandatory minimum sentences that add up to 120 years.

Seated at the defense table, Snodgrass, who had seemed stolid all week, bowed his head as he listened to the jury foreman read the 12 guilty verdicts, his head seeming to go lower as the toll mounted.

The jury’s verdict was announced after 7 p.m., finding him guilty on: Eight counts of raping the child from the time she was five until last September when she was nine, each carrying a maximum sentence of life and a mandatory minimum of 15 years; and four counts of sexual contact with the girl over those years, each count with a top sentence of 15 years in prison.

As deputies put shackles on him, Snodgrass’s face crumpled and he formed a heart with his handcuffed hands toward eight or more of his family and friends sitting near him in the gallery. Then the tears came, shaking his body but silent as some of his family were sobbing.

“I love you all more than you can know,” he said to his supporters as deputies led him out of the courtroom. He was taken back to the Hughes County Jail where he’s been held without bond since his arrest last September days after his ex-girlfriend told police her daughter told her “Brandon molested me.”

In the hallway outside the courtroom, one of Snodgrass’s sisters wailed loudly, nearly hysterical and losing her breath, as her parents and friends tried to comfort her and quiet her.

Snodgrass’s father, Barry Snodgrass, testified he saw a normal, affectionate father/daughter-like relationship between his son and the girl during regular visits with them over several years.

Asked for a comment after the verdict came in, Barry Snodgrass told the Capital Journal: “Pierre, South Dakota, the only place you are guilty unless you can afford to prove you’re innocent. That’s all I’ve got to say.”

David Siebrasse, Snodgrass’s defense attorney, sat in the courtroom for some time after the verdict, gathering his materials and chatting with Judge Mark Barnett. Siebrasse declined to comment on the verdict.

(Barnett retired in March but was tabbed by state Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson to preside over the trial of the case he had last year.)

Hughes County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond wore a jeweled pin of a Tyrannosaurus Rex on Wednesday, May 29, when she called the 10-year-old girl to the witness stand. She and the girl had clicked last fall as Hammond was part of interviews with her, Hammond said.

“Of course, my goal was always to get a conviction,” Hammond told the Capital Journal. “But the second thing was I wanted to do what I could to make this OK for her. She’s been a trouper the whole time.”

She couldn’t take up the girl’s invitation to celebrate Halloween with her as a dinosaur, Hammond said. But the girl inspired Hammond to buy her own inflatable T-Rex costume to hand out candy. The girl later drew a picture of a dinosaur and gave it to Hammond and the prosecutor shows it to visitors at her desk.

“She was tickled I wore (the pin.) It was a neat way to bond with her.”

For more than 80 minutes that day before the jury, judge, lawyers and a full court room, the girl answered awkward and terrible questions with poise about what she said Snodgress did to her with big and strange sex toys and with his mouth, fingers and penis. She did not seem to enjoy the attention, but wasn’t overcome by the pressure of cross--examination or the way-too-adult subject matter.

She was matter of fact and appeared comfortable saying she wasn’t sure about a detail or couldn’t remember an exact time period. She acknowledged she had a good and loving relationship with Snodgrass when he wasn’t abusing her. She said she kept a dreamcatcher and pictures he made for her when he was in the state prison.

Her mother testified that she and Snodgrass had lived together in Pierre from mid-2014 to early 2018, when the girl was in kindergarten through third grade; save for about 14 months Snodgrass spent in prison for a drug crime.

“I think I won the case because of her,” Hammond said of the girl she has gotten to know well. “If she had not been such a strong witness, the other evidence would not have mattered.’

The physical evidence included her DNA found on the tip of a vibrator sex toy which had Snodgrass’s DNA on the handle, according to testimony. The girl “knew things she shouldn’t have known,” Hammond told the jury, including being able to describe what semen felt and looked like and details about Snodgrass’s genitals.

In an interview Friday after the verdict came in, Hammond told the Capital Journal that after a particularly grueling interview last fall in which Hammond first heard many of the details of what the girl said Snodgrass did to her, “I went home and cried.”

As it happens, Friday was Hammond’s fifth wedding anniversary and she was called away from a quick dinner with her husband with news the jury had a verdict.

Hammond said she felt relief, among other things, especially for the victim, after the verdict.

“She is truly a hero for victims of sexual assault. She has been so brave,” Hammond said. “Brandon Snodgrass was the coward. Because he did those things to that child and kept her scared all that time.”

Hammond said she followed typical prosecution strategy in charging Snodgrass with eight counts of child rape that together carry 120 years of mandatory minimum sentences and also four lesser felony counts that could mean another 60 years in prison.

“The idea is to plead it down,” she said. “So you need plenty of room to deal. But he didn’t take any deal. He rejected all my plea offers. Did I need to have all those counts for prison time? No. But that’s what he got.”

No sentencing date has been set and it will be at least two months, court officers say, because he needs to undergo a psycho-sexual evaluation.

Earlier Friday: The jury received the case about 4:15 p.m., Friday, after witness testimony from Tuesday morning until late-morning Friday. On Monday, May 27, attorneys selected a jury panel and made opening statements.

About 5:30 p.m., Friday, May 31, the jury told court officials they were near a verdict and would not need to order dinner,a court officer said.

Several minutes later it was learned the jury had a question on exactly how to distinguish between counts that seemed similar. Judge Mark Barnett gathered attorneys from both sides in the courtroom, read them the question and they agreed on an answer to be sent back to the jury in their deliberation room.

At 6:40 p.m., Friday, the news came the jury had a verdict as Snodgrass waited in the mostly empty courtroom, with his attorney David Siebrasse and a few family members.

Judge Barnett ordered Snodgrass be handcuffed to await the verdict.

“Standard procedure,” Barnett told him and his family as deputies put the handcuffs on. “If you are acquitted, the handcuffs will come off in about four seconds and you will be free to go.”

Earlier Friday, Snodgrass made his first public statement of innocence at his trial.

He said it to the judge while the jury was out of the courtroom. But it would be all he would say formally at the trial as Snodgrass also informed Barnett Friday morning he would not testify in his own defense.

While the jury was out of the courtroom for a short break Friday morning, defense attorney Siebrasse told Judge Barnett he had advised Snodgrass not to testify, but that it was Snodgrass’s “own independent decision” not to testify, made without any coercion.

Barnett told Snodgrass he had the right to testify “if you want to,” and asked him if it was his wish not to testify.

Snodgrass answered by reading a short statement while sitting at the defense table: “I do not feel the need to undergo cross examination and possible defamation” in maintaining “my honest, blatant denial” of the charges.

As both sides discussed any last-minute changes to jury instructions on Friday with Judge Barnett, prosecutor Hammond told him she wanted one bit of evidence kept from the jury before it went into deliberation.

Hammond said it was a short passage in a letter from the alleged victim’s mother to Snodgrass in prison two years ago in which she “makes a comment that (her daughter) fibs at times.”

Snodgrass served about a year in prison on drug charges.

The comment in the letter would be too prejudicial to the prosecution’s case and the issue wasn’t part of any testimony in court, so the jury might take it out of context, Hammond told Barnett.

But the judge denied Hammond’s request, saying he didn’t think it was a good idea for him to start editing the letters. Barnett said the jury could adequately weigh the short statement, in part because most parents are familiar with children fibbing at times.

Siebrasse told Judge Barnett shortly before 11 a.m., Friday that he was ready to rest his defense of Snodgrass.

Each side agreed to use up to an hour for a closing statement; Barnett spent about 45 minutes reading more than 50 jury instructions agreed to by both sides.

In his hour-long closing, Siebrasse told the jury that out of about 44,000 entries on four electronic devices belonging to Snodgrass, including a smart phone and a tablet, investigators found only about 345 suspicious entries such as pornographic images.

In her rebuttal closing argument, Hammond told the jury: “345 times. That’s approximately 70 times a month he was accessing these images. So it may not be as minor as it may seem. . . That’s more than twice a day.”

Siebrasse called an expert witness who testified the images and websites where they are found were not typical of child pornograpy as part of his argument that Snodgrass did not fit the profile of someone sexually attracted to children.

Hammond countered with a rebuttal expert witness who testified that child pornography cases often involve the use of adult porn sites with images of people made up to look younger than 18.

It was clear, Hammond told the jury in her closing, that Snodgrass searched on the internet for porn sites identified as “teens,” and “young,” and with “step-daughter” and “step-daughter,” in the titles, evidence he had sexual interest in children such as the victim in this case.