Bernard Wyman Christenson, 82

Bernard “Bernie” Christenson, 82, of Pierre, died peacefully at his home, surrounded by his family on Friday, January 31st, 2020.

Bernard “Bernie” Wyman Christenson was born April 17, 1938, in Britton, SD, the youngest of four children to Oscar & Francis Christenson. Until age 11 Bernie lived on a farm west of Brampton, ND. In the Fall of 1949, the family relocated to the Quarve farm southeast of Britton, SD. He attended Waverly #4 grade school, a country school, through the eighth grade. Bernie graduated from Britton High School in 1956. He attended South Dakota State University for a time, followed by the United States Army, stationed in Panama, returning to SDSU earning a Bachelors degree. Later in life while raising his family and tending to multiple careers, Bernie received a Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota.

Bernie was a profound leader in South Dakota where 20 years of his life were spent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation. He was a Special Agent, Training Coordinator, and retired as Assistant Director. During this time, he was appointed to the Retirement Study Committee which consolidated the majority of public employee systems in SD. One of his proudest appointments was to the SD Retirement System, under the Kneip Administration, where he became the first chairman of the board.

Upon his retirement with law enforcement, Bernie was employed with BankWest in Pierre as a Vice President. During this time, he furthered his public service on the Pierre City Commission and was twice elected to the SD House of Representatives.

At the request of Governor Mickelson, Bernie helped form the South Dakota Community Foundation (SDCF) in 1987 and became the first Executive Director until his retirement in 2003. Under Bernie’s leadership, the SDCF raised over $40 million in endowed assets. He coined the phrase “Community Savings Account” encouraging individuals to give back to their home town communities to support both immediate and long-term needs. Individuals and communities continue to embrace the model he built over 30 years ago and have invested over $350 million to improve lives in South Dakota.

At the young age of 19, Bernie discovered his love for aviation, which in 1989 led him into a partnership to purchase Capital City Air Carrier, Inc. Bernie was a professional pilot achieving the Airline Transport Pilot Rating and was a Federal Aviation Administration Designated Pilot Examiner for 40 years. During that time, he licensed more than 1,700 pilots. He accumulated more than 17,000 hours of flying time. He was Chief Pilot and Company Check Pilot for 43 years, where he successfully completed more than 120 flight checks with the FAA and maintained FAR Part 135 status longer than any other pilot in known history. He was a pilot for the State of SD and had flown every Governor or given them flight instruction since Gov. Frank L. Farrar.

Bernie was active in Masons, Consistory, Shrine, Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce, Elks, SD Peace Officers Association, FBI National Academy Association, First United Methodist Church in Pierre, and was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2013 and the South Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame in 2016.

When Bernie married the love of his life, Sally, they lived life to the fullest and always found time for family, friends, & fun. They wintered in Arizona for 20 years and maintained homes & community involvement in Pierre, SD and Fountain Hills, AZ. They enjoyed skiing, boating, biking, traveling, and many corvette rallies. Bernie was an avid golfer who was known to “shoot his age” and thoroughly enjoyed taking money off his golfing buddies. Hunting was a passion and he was an expert marksman.

Bernie was a family man and loved spending time with his wife, children, & grandchildren. He is survived by his wife Sally, his children, Brad (Ashley) Christenson and daughters Nora and Savi, Brian (Kate) Christenson and daughter Sage and son Myles, and Kathy (Bryan Walz) Christenson, Nathan (Nicole) Welsh and sons Jackson and Declan, Macy (Mike) Kaiser and daughters Kielan and Alinea, sister-in-law Peggy Hanafin, and several nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother Rollin Christenson, sister Jean Schaller, half-sister Patricia Kranz Jones, and sister Marian Raines.

He wanted to be remembered not for what he did, but for the difference he made in people’s lives by “opening a door or two along the way”. Therefore, in lieu of flowers, Bernie requested that memorials be made to the “Bernie Christenson Feed the Children Fund” through the South Dakota Community Foundation at Bernie Christenson Feed the Children Fund.

Visitation will be held Friday, February 7, 2020, from 5:30-7:00pm followed by a Prayer Service at 7:00pm at the First United Methodist Church in Pierre, SD. Celebration of Life will be held Saturday, February 8, 2020, at 10:30am at First United Methodist Church followed by full Military Honors at Riverside Cemetery.

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