Friday, December 19, 2014

Christmas Comes Early in South Dakota, a column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard

The Christmas season is a time of giving. We give of our time to volunteer for worthy causes. We give of our money through donations to charitable efforts. And of course, we give Christmas gifts to our loved ones.

This year, South Dakota has received two generous Christmas gifts that will have a lasting impact on our state.

One gift will look to the future, by creating new opportunities for young people. T. Denny Sanford is donating $25 million to create the “Build Dakota” scholarship program. A state Future Fund grant will match the donation, creating a $50 million scholarship fund.

T. Denny Sanford is one of the nation’s leading philanthropists, and over the years he has shown a strong commitment to improving the lives of young people. I first met Denny because of his generosity to Children’s Home Society, and since that time he has made transformational gifts in healthcare, underground research and education. This is yet another transformational gift that will benefit South Dakota and our young people. 

Build Dakota will award approximately 300 full scholarships to students who enroll in a high-need workforce field at one of South Dakota’s four technical institutes. The scholarships will cover tuition, fees, books and equipment costs. In return, students will be asked to stay in South Dakota and work in their field for three years after graduating.

South Dakota has the second lowest unemployment rate in the nation. While I am very proud of that, it can be a double-edged sword. I have heard many times from business owners that they struggle to find qualified workers, and this shortage makes it difficult for businesses to expand and accept new customers. The state has partnered with communities, businesses and educational institutions to address workforce needs, and Build Dakota is a major step toward addressing this challenge.

South Dakota received a second “Christmas gift” from Norm and Eunabel McKie and their family. The McKie’s are donating $1 million to erect a 45-foot stainless steel statue, overlooking the Missouri River at Chamberlain. The sculpture, entitled “Dignity,” will portray a Native American woman receiving a star quilt. Sculptor Dale Lamphere calls the monument “a tribute to the strong traditions of Native people.”

Just as the Sanford donation is looking to the future, the McKie family is honoring South Dakota’s past and the people who make this state great. The “Dignity” monument will honor our Native Americans and remind us of the pride and courage that they have shown throughout our history, often in difficult circumstances. It will also remind us of the McKie family, who came to South Dakota as pioneers and built a successful business over several generations.

The “Dignity” monument will be visible to millions of drivers who cross the Missouri River bridge on Interstate 90 each year, and for that reason I believe that South Dakota, already known as the state of Rushmore and Crazy Horse, will become known as well as the state of “Dignity.”

This Christmas season, we can be thankful for the generosity of T. Denny Sanford and the McKie family, and for the impact that their gifts will have on our state. But we can also be thankful that they are not the exception – South Dakota has thousands and thousands of people who give of themselves to help their neighbors and to make our state a better place. It’s a Christmas gift that we all can cherish.