James “Jimmy” Dean Valnes, 70

A Celebration of Life will be held in honor of James “Jimmy” Dean Valnes at 3 p.m., Thursday, September 19, 2019 at the Izaak Walton League, 1200 Izaak Walton Road, Pierre. It will be casual with the intent to resemble a family reunion. Dinner and fellowship will follow the service.

James Dean Valnes was born on May 12, 1949 to proud, humble, hard-working Norwegian parents, Stanford and Alma (Hoem) Valnes of Eden, South Dakota. Jim’s grandparents and their accompanying siblings were some of the initial settlers in Marshall County in the mid-1800’s. They participated in parceling out land to create homesteads. In collaboration with approximately 16 relatives and friends, they also founded the Buffalo Lake Lutheran Church in Eden, SD in 1897, and to this day it remains the story-book-like “little white church on the hill” right next to the Valnes Farm. It was this church in which Jim was baptized and confirmed, and where he remained an active and contributing member (if even from a distance) through his adult years. It is at this church where burial will take place at a later date.

The first home of Jim’s family was derived from a one-room granary, until more industrialized amenities such as a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, and garage were added in 1969. With a chuckle and a shake of the head, Jim would reminisce of waking in his upstairs bedroom with frost on his eyebrows and a thin film of icicles sealing his eyelashes closed. “It always felt a lot better after we went down to the wash basin in the kitchen,” he said with a chuckle, “you know, where we could smack through that nice sheath of ice and wash off our faces with that nice ‘warm’ water.”

Chores were a main part of the morning routine: eggs were collected, cows were milked, and horses were tended to, before walking approximately 1.5 miles from the Valnes Farm to the Hoem School, Buffalo Lake Country School #4, which was established in Fall 1923 by the same maternal and fraternal relatives of Jim’s that founded the church. Jim only missed school twice during his eight years of primary education – once for a broken ankle and again for appendicitis – before moving into town to attend Sisseton High school.

During the weeks of the school year, he and his best friend rented a room in town, and as the “good boys” they were, they ate a banana every morning and completed their homework (usually) before heading to the pool hall where they strengthen their friendship as well as their pool skills by earning free access to the pool tables in return for cleaning up the bowling alley. Jim graduated from Sisseton High School in 1967.

Since he bypassed the Vietnam draft by one number that fall, he headed to South Dakota State University, Brookings, SD to major in sociology with a minor in mathematics and graduated in 1972. He often participated in summer school with the strategy that lightening his academic load through the school year would assure him a way to maintain more of a social life during the academic year. Photos prove that theory to have been fruitful.

After graduation, Jim moved back to Sisseton: helping on the farm, working weekends at the Stavig Brothers Store where he had also worked during high school, working evenings at the Brothers Three Bar in town, and working days as an educational aide in Peever Elementary School. It was through the latter that he met Kathy Gross, to whom he was married from 1974-2013. In 1975, Jim took a job with the SD State Department of Labor in Aberdeen, but shortly after, he transferred to Pierre where he would plant his roots and call home for the next 45 years.

Jim shifted to the Department of Social Services in 1978, and remained in that department serving in various positions until his retirement from the role as the Program Administrator for the TANF Work Program in 2015 after 40 years of service “to the great State of South Dakota,” as he said most genuinely. Through this time, he contributed to programs that aided the lives of literally hundreds of thousands of South Dakotans. Examples include being at the forefront of welfare reform in the early 2000’s to the point of being considered an expert in the field. He also was noted as a key contributor to the implementation of the Family Independence and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in South Dakota. Among his co-workers, he was known to reliably lend a hand, maintain the office morale, have a smile on his face, and make a mean first pot of coffee to start the day off right.

Jim enjoyed his work, but above that, he enjoyed the relationships that formed as a result of that professional connection, many of which would turn into long-lasting friendships, if not bonds similar to extended family. In addition to the essentials of going fishing at any possible juncture, getting together at a community gathering, or meeting up for a “brewskie with the boys” at the Legion, Jim’s involvement with community was an essential component to his livelihood. He became an active member with the Pierre-Ft. Pierre Kiwanis Club in 1973 with a record of perfect attendance for 20+ years. He held various offices such as president and secretary/treasurer, but his signature tenure was the Kiwanis Youth Movie Fundraiser, which he led annually since 1990. He also made some folks chuckle and others wince as he touted his witty humor as “Fine Master” and “Joke Teller.” He figured “the world has enough crap going on that we can’t do anything about…why not find a way to keep things light!”

Jim filled his evenings by participating in the Pierre Bowling League since 1974, serving as secretary/treasurer from 1990-2016, and earning various accolades for a few high scores and bringing lots of yummy snacks. Though there are too many to list in their entirety, Jim found ways to outreach to various communities within the community, filling a light-hearted and dependable role in each. They include the Pierre Pool League, the Pierre Shuffleboard League, the Pierre Golf League, the Pierre-Ft. Pierre Masonic Lodge, and the Pierre-Ft. Pierre Eastern Star, holding positions such as Warder and project coordinator for the Hertha Gross Giving Back to Community project since 2015. Jim also made new and interesting friends through regular delivery of Meals on Wheels, providing lawn care for the American Legion (2010-2015), and fulfilling lawn care and grounds maintenance needs for multiple single- and multi-family homes around town since 1990.

Above all else, Jim loved being a father. Spending time with his daughter, Betsy, was a joy for him regardless of what they were doing. The earlier days may have been a bit more trying since father-daughter bonding activities consisted of at-home piano and ballet lessons, dancing parties, and reading the same book with his eyes closed. But their time together evolved to include things like sledding, going for bike rides, tasting her culinary experiments like “mint-peanut butter-anise cookies” that Father assured her were “simply delicious” after a LONG drink of milk. They nurtured their relationship not as much by spoken word as they did through action: doing hours of math homework, playing cribbage, playing gin, throwing darts, mowing yards, making homemade ice cream, devouring the day’s fresh catch, flaming up the grill, anything that involved power tools, going for drives, catching a random movie, visiting grandmas/-pas, exploring family ancestry, attending family events or taking random excursions…and knowing by nothing more than a glance, that should the time ever come, no matter what it was, they’d have one another’s backs.

Unexpectedly, that agreement was called to be fulfilled on Sunday, September 1, 2019 when Jim passed away peacefully in his home. His transition from the Earth-as-we-know-it was preceded by his parents, Stanford and Alma Valnes, his mother-in-law, Hertha Gross, and multiple aunts and uncles. He is survived by his loving daughter and friend Betsy Valnes, Pierre, SD; brother Gary (Marsha) Valnes, Sisseton, SD; brother Dennis (Terry) Valnes, Ft. Collins, CO; sister Marilyn (Doug) Sandman, Rapid City, SD; and brother David (Debbi) Valnes, Eden, SD; as well as numerous nieces, nephews, and other extended family. He will be greatly missed by his close in-laws: Bernice Weller and family; Norma Weller and family; and O.R. Weller; his extended family/life brothers, Lowell Glanzman, Pierre; Grant Palm, Bozeman, MT; and his close friends Mike Vogel, Cologne, MN; Tim Koehn, Denver, CO; and Mike Hanlon, Sioux Falls, SD.

Condolences may be conveyed to the family at

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