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Tony Melendez, armless guitarist, to give free concert in Pierre

Guitarist, singer and composer Tony Melendez will give a free concert for the community Oct. 24 in the Riggs High School theater in Pierre. Melendez will first be featured as an inspirational speaker, during school and public assemblies at St. Joseph School and Pierre School District’s Georgia Morse Middle School.

Tony Melendez was born without arms.

Why is Melendez playing in Pierre? “I offered to coordinate the concert last year,” said Barb Stangeland, a parent of a St. Joseph student. The Stangelands moved to the Pierre area in 2017. “Through youth ministry, I have known Tony and his brother, Jose, for the last 25 years. He has become a family friend. We have hosted him in other school concerts.” His concert was originally set for last April, but was cancelled because of Winter Storm Wesley.

Why is Tony coming back to Pierre? “Tony was invited to Pierre last April to celebrate the end of the 60th school year at St. Joseph School. He is coming back now in October to fulfill that obligation because of the storm cancelling the concert.” The concert, a free-will offering, is to help the St. Joseph School’s tuition assistance fund.

What will Tony and Jose do while here? “Our family most likely will take them out to eat when they arrive on Tuesday evening. We are hoping to share with them some of our favorite places to visit here in town, such as the Donut Shop and Zesto. Any downtime will be spent catching up on each others lives. I will be taking the days off work to help them set up at St. Joseph School, Georgia Morse Middle School, the St. Peter and Paul Youth Event and the concert.

Is there anything Tony can’t do? “There are probably things Tony can’t do, but when spending time with him you don’t really notice it. Jose, his brother, has traveled with him most places. When he is not traveling, he has his wife Lynn and two adult children to help him. Tony can drive his adapted vehicle that he steers with his feet. He can dress himself. He will share with the students some of the things he does differently.”

Who may hear his inspirational speeches? “The assemblies are limited in space so they will be for GMMS and St. Joseph School students and staff. Anyone is welcome to the concert on Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Riggs High. Tony gives a concert that is appropriate for all ages.

What is Melendes’ story? According to Jose, Tony was born without arms and with a clubbed foot due to the drug, thalidomide. Their mother was prescribed this drug for morning sickness by her doctor. In his first year, Tony’s family immigrated from Nicaragua to the United States so Tony could have corrective surgery on his left foot in order for him to walk.

Tony learned to do almost everything with his feet. At 16, he taught himself to play the guitar. As he grew proficient at his guitar playing he also matured as a singer and composer. Now more than 31 years later, Tony has traveled to all 50 states and more than 44 foreign countries.

Tony and Jose together share with young and old their message of hope, encouragement and faith. They discuss self esteem, substance abuse, disability awareness, cultural awareness, bullying and family support.

Tony and his family live in Branson, Missouri. He has recorded six albums, Never Be The Same, Ways of The Wise, El Muro se Callo, Cup Of Life, Hands In Heaven and Hope/Esperanza! He also has published his autobiography, A Gift Of Hope.

Tony has earned special commendations from President Reagan, State of California, The City of Los Angeles, and many other civic and charitable organizations, as well as the Inspirational Hero Award from the NFL Alumni Association at Super Bowl XXIII in Miami.

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Rooster Rush hits Pierre for pheasant opener for non-South-Dakotans

Pheasant season got off to an official but sunny start on Thursday at the Pierre Regional Airport as a jet plane stuffed with hunters from elsewhere met up with civic pride and hospitality from here.

Lois Ries, director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau at the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce, led a team that met the 1:30 p.m. SkyWest/United flight from Denver. “We will be here again for the flight arriving at 10:30 tonight and we will do the same thing on Friday,” Ries said. “We had a great response. All the hunters were very receptive.”

Russ Greer, who flew in from Florida, via Denver, was one of them.

“It was packed,” said Russ Greer of the 50-passenger jet that came in from Denver. “They overbooked and had to pay one guy $1,500 to stay in Denver.”

Ries and a crew from the Chamber were busy at their table in the terminal handing out cookies, t-shirts, shot glasses and insulated can covers, or “koozies.”

Even lip balm.

Andrew Howard, just in from Greenville, South Carolina, eagerly accepted the gift of balm from greeters.

“I left mine at home,” Howard told them. “You’re awesome.”

It was a mostly one-gendered commercial flight from Denver on Thursday afternoon that landed in Pierre.

“I heard one woman — she was coming home, she lives in Pierre — say ‘I felt like I was in a man-cave,’” Ries said with a laugh.

Ries said that Pierre and Fort Pierre have 800 hotel rooms and she hopes they will be filled up for pheasant season.

Many of those arriving Thursday are headed for hunting lodges in the region where they will stay for several days.

Greer came with a group of 12 men from Winter Park, Florida.

He and a couple others had hunted here last year and stayed at the Tumbleweed Lodge near Harrold and liked it.

“So this year I brought a couple business partners and they brought their sons,” he said.

The Tumbleweed Lodge is sponsored by Orvis sporting goods stores, which is a kind of good hunter-keeper seal of approval, according to Greer. “So you know what you’re getting.”

Sean Finley, general manager and head chef at the Cheyenne Ridge Signature Lodge 22 miles north of Pierre on Lake Oahe, was at the airport early to meet a dozen clients from Texas, most of them affiliated with Texas Tech University in Lubbock, his alma mater.

Most hunters stay for three or four days at Cheyenne Ridge, buying packages that cost $4,175 or $5,200 per hunter. Unlike some lodges, that package includes 20 pheasants a day from the lodge’s preserve, Finley said. “We are all-inclusive.”

Of course, the opener means busy times at guns and ammo shops that also sell hunting licenses.

Brent Adams, who mans the firearms area in the back of Runnings, is ready. From Iowa, Adams has been in Pierre for 21 years and said Thursday that the fun for the weekend was only beginning.

“We went through about 200 licenses already,” Adams said. “But it’s just starting. Lots of folks are waiting ‘till their other folks get here to come in.”

Across town at Lynn’s Dakotamart on Sioux Avenue in Pierre, there is a similar scene downstairs in the sporting goods department.

Marlin Fallon, originally from Sturgis and in Pierre for 15 years, said he couldn’t keep count of the ringneck-related business.

“I’ve been busy all day with the pheasant licenses. This weekend will be really busy though.”

The world-class pheasant hunting around Pierre and Fort Pierre brings in celebrities and big hitters, Adams said.

He’s seen Dallas Cowboys fly into Pierre to hunt here.

Retired Green Bay Packers legend Brett Favre has been here, too.

“It’s really great for the economy here in Pierre,” Adams said. “Go to the airport and see all the Learjets parked there. It’s really pretty neat.”

Chris Oliver, and his 4-year-old black Lab service dog, Jake, have been coming to Pierre from Texas for four years to hunt the pheasant opener. Oliver started hunting here 10 years ago, he said. He and Jake picked up his guns and other equipment and went over to Mustang Aviation near the terminal to meet friends who flew in on a private jet.

John Stalcup flew in from Alabama, greeted in the terminal by his brothers Tom and Tyler and two other men from Gillette, Wyoming.

Tyler Stalcup held up a cardboard sign saying “Alabama sucks,” so John knew where to go.

They laughed and high-fived.

“This will be my eighteenth year,” Tom Stalcup said. “I’ve come out every year for opening.”

Spirits were high all over town, maybe, not counting the pheasants.

With his lip balm plus all else he carried with him, Howard was ready.

“I love everything here. The people. The scenery. The hunting. Everything. There is nothing bad.”

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Pierre Commission approves buying a new fire engine

The Pierre City Commission this week approved Fire Chief Ian Paul’s request to advertise for bids for a new 2020 fire truck.

The city has four fire engines that pump water and hold 1,000 gallons of water, one at each of the four stations around town, Paul said.

The all-volunteer department (except for Chief Paul) also has a bigger “aerial” or ladder truck. He replaces the trucks on a rotating schedule.

The last new truck was bought three years ago and cost about $345,000, Paul said.

When the ladder truck needs replacing, it will take about a million bucks, he told the Commission on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Mayor Steve Harding asked Paul whether the used truck that will be replaced will “still have some value?”

The used truck might sell for $50,000 to $80,000, depending on the market and the truck, Paul said. The city will put it up for sale on sealed bids, he said.

Three years ago when the city bought its last new truck, the used one, built and bought in 2004, was sold to the fire department in Arlington, South Dakota, Paul said.

The request for bids for the 2020 truck will go out generally to all vendors, he said. That will include Rosenbauer in Lyons, South Dakota, which says it’s the world’s largest maker of fire trucks.

The last couple of trucks bought by the Pierre Volunteer Fire Department came from Rosenbauer, Paul said. It’s nice to keep the business “in-state,” but any vendor can meet the specifications Pierre needs and make a bid on making a truck for the fire department, he said.

“The specs are about 40 pages long,” Paul said.

They will include this year shifting to another brand of base truck and engine.

“We are moving to a Freightliner chassis,” he said of the brand of truck. “It will be a two-door chassis, and they will build the box around it.”

He hopes to have the new truck delivered by late 2020, Paul said.

That will bring the department on an 18-year rotation in replacing trucks, he told the Commission.

Now with 58 volunteer fire-fighters, Paul said he’s got the staffing where it needs to be.

Make-n-Take holiday ornaments, Nov. 2, at Cultural Heritage Center

The Cultural Heritage Center, Pierre, is holding its eighth annual “Make-n-Take a Holiday Ornament” event Saturday, Nov. 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Supplies and instructions for the ornaments are provided. All ages are welcome. Children must be accompanied by an adult. Cookies, coffee, and punch will be served. There is free admission to the museum for all visitors on that day.

It’s a “make-and-take” because visitors make ornaments to decorate a tree for the Cultural Heritage Center as well as ornaments to take home.

“The Christmas tree decorated with the ornaments from the make-n-take is a highlight in the Cultural Heritage Center lobby during the holiday season,” said Jay Smith, museum director. “It’s great to see the variety of ornaments, ranging from simple pipe cleaner candy canes to elaborate folded paper wreaths. We introduce a few new ornaments every year and hold onto some tried-and-true favorites.”

The decorated tree will be up in the Cultural Heritage Center lobby during the holiday season. The annual Holiday Open House is set for Friday, Nov. 29, starting at noon and going to 4:30 p.m. It features Santa Claus, musical entertainment and refreshments.

The museum is open from 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. CDT Monday through Saturday, and 1-4:30 p.m. CDT on Sundays and most holidays. Call 605-773-3458 or visit history.sd.gov for more information about exhibits, special events, and upcoming activities.

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SD prison inmate serving life dies after illness

Garreth Q. Gannon, who was serving a life sentence in the South Dakota State Prison in Sioux Falls for attempted murder in Rapid City in 1996, died Wednesday, Oct. 16, after an illness, prison spokesman Michael Winder announced on Thursday.

Gannon was 64.

He was described as white, with brown hair and eyes, 6 feet, 1 inch, and 187 pounds in current prison records online.

Gannon was sentenced in April 1996 to life in prison for a count of attempted first-degree murder and a count of first-degree robbery as a habitual offender. Gannon apparently never appealed his conviction, according to the state Supreme Court.

According to the Rapid City Journal, Gannon pleaded guilty in April 1996 to the March 1996 shooting of a Rapid City tobacco shop employee.

In court, Gannon agreed he was a career criminal who had spent much of the previous two decades in prison and that he meant to kill the only witness to his crime.

“Gannon passed away in the infirmary of the Jameson Annex to the South Dakota State Penitentiary Oct. 16,” Winder said in a news release.