During the funeral services for former state Rep. and pastor Sean McPherson on Friday morning at Rapid City Christian School, one word kept appearing: joy.
“Sean had the amazing ability to bring joy into any situation regardless of how bleak the situation was,” said Mike Kraemer, a friend and fellow pastor in Bismarck, N.D. “Sean had an incredible ability to bring the good out.”
“I never saw him discouraged,” said Jim Comfort, one of the pastors credited with leading McPherson from the church pews to the pulpit around 20 years ago. “I never saw him whining. I never saw him complaining.”
McPherson, 47, died April 26 after a yearlong battle with cancer that took his leg and ultimately, his life. A representative for District 32 in the South Dakota legislature, McPherson was a former Navy submariner during the first Gulf War, senior pastor at Real Life Church in Rapid City and Bible teacher at Rapid City Christian High School. He leaves behind his wife, Kristin, two biological and two foster children, Weston, Jordyn, Trinity and Jason, and two grandchildren, Thad Victor and Briar Jo.
With about 350 people packing into Rapid City Christian’s gymnasium, friends and colleagues from McPherson’s personal, religious and political life remembered a man who also left an indelible impact on their lives with his humility, humor and omnipresent optimism.
Gov. Dennis Daugaard said he truly got to know McPherson when both men traveled with their wives to Groton, Conn., to celebrate the christening of the USS South Dakota submarine last October. During his time in the Navy, McPherson had spent a brief time as an instructor at the very shipyard where the submarine was sent on its maiden voyage into Block Island Sound. McPherson tried taking Daugaard to a few of his old haunts, the governor recalled. On the third attempt, they finally found one that was still in business.
“Sean realized he was little older than he thought,” Daugaard joked. “His watering holes had all closed.”
Though their friendship was young, Daugaard described McPherson in ways similar to that of much older friends.
“Even in the tough and painful times, Sean remained hopeful and positive,” Daugaard said, pausing as his voice broke with emotion. “Sean was a good legislator and more importantly, a good man. I’m very thankful that I got the opportunity to know him.”
Born in Goose Creek, S.C., McPherson spent his early life moving around the country as his father, Bill, pursued a naval career. Eventually, his family settled in Newton, Kan., where McPherson went to school and met his high school sweetheart and wife, Kristin Landreth. They married in the spring of 1990 and began traveling throughout the country as McPherson's naval career led him on a path similar to his father's.
At the conclusion of his naval service, McPherson and Kristin moved to Rio Rancho, N.M., and McPherson took a job with Intel Corporation. There, he became involved with a local church and met pastors Jim Comfort and Chip Garrison, both of whom spoke at Friday’s service. Shortly thereafter, he joined the ministry and moved to South Dakota where he ministered in Sioux Falls, Mitchell and finally, Rapid City. He was elected to be the Representative of District 32 in the South Dakota House in the fall of 2016.
McPherson's fight with cancer began in February 2017 and forced him to take a leave of sbscence from the legislature. He lost his leg to a tumor a few months later and was thought to be cancer free until December, when it was discovered that the cancer had spread to his lungs.
A letter posted on April 5 to the Support for Sean Facebook page said McPherson and Kristin made the decision to no longer undergo treatments for his cancer after the last round wasn't effective.
Even amid the darkness, Kraemer recalled McPherson remaining light. Once, after McPherson’s leg had been amputated, he joked to Kraemer that they should start a kickball team.
And just a few weeks ago, Kraemer said he visited McPherson, who needed the help of an oxygen tank to breathe. As he drove from Bismarck to Rapid City, Kraemer said he thought of all the good memories he’d had with his dying friend.
“My full attention was I was going to come and encourage Sean,” Kraemer said. As the men talked and joked, McPherson would occasionally begin coughing amid laughs. Worried, Kraemer asked him if he was alright. McPherson joked that since he had gotten cancer again, he had taken up smoking.
“What I discovered when I went to bring Sean encouragement ... it wasn’t me bringing him encouragement. Sean brought me encouragement,” Kraemer said. “That’s the way Sean lived his life.”
At one point, McPherson asked Kraemer to do him one favor at his funeral. Kraemer said he’d hoped not to think or talk about such things, but let McPherson continue. McPherson leaned in close and asked him to sing “Hello from the other side” by Adele.
“It was really, really funny. And I told him ‘Not a chance, man, not a chance,’” Kraemer said before pausing. “But that’s what kind of guy he was. He brought joy into every situation. Let’s spread joy like Sean spread joy.”
Gifts in support of McPherson and his family can be sent to the Sean McPherson Fund at PO Box 926, Rapid City, SD, 57709.
It’s good to be young and Lakota.
That’s the message 22-year-old Sierra Concha hopes to spread as she begins the next chapter of her life following graduation from Black Hills State University this weekend.
Nearly 390 graduates will be recognized during the 175th Black Hills State University Commencement Ceremony at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Donald E. Young Sports and Fitness Center on the BHSU campus. The public is invited.
A Lakota prayer will be shared during the ceremony by Beverly Running Bear, instructor of Lakota language. Chris Crawford, provost and vice president for academic affairs at BHSU, and John Bastian of the South Dakota Board of Regents will offer greetings to the graduates.
An honorary doctorate will be bestowed upon Lowell Amiotte, Oglala Lakota and a 1964 graduate of BHSU. Amiotte is recognized for his dedication and commitment to Native American education. He spent nearly 50 years in education including serving as director of the Center for American Indian Studies at BHSU and helping to establish the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
Concha will graduate with a bachelor in English and a minor in Native American studies, and said she is looking toward a future that will help strengthen her people.
“We’re incredibly strong, empowered people,” she said. “We’re more engaged with who we are. It’s incredible what’s (happening) on the reservation. We’re here, and we’re making a difference.”
Concha, who is Lakota, Taos Pueblo and Ojibuye, spent the first half of her childhood in Albuquerque, N.M., and moved to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation when she was 13. The granddaughter of the late Dennis Banks, a Native American activist and longtime leader of the American Indian Movement, Concha said it is in her blood to lift up her people. Banks, who passed away last year, cultivated a spirit of resiliency in her family, she said.
She honored him on his birthday, which fell on the same week she celebrated her heritage on campus during American Indian Awareness Week.
“This was his first birthday since he passed away, and I prayed, smudged with sage and found it fitting his birthday falls on a week that we celebrate indigenous people,” she said.
Two years ago, Concha presented a TEDxYouth talk on how Native youth are more than statistics.
“There are so many negative statistics and articles, and they are ultimately false because there are so many youth trying to make their community better,” she said. “The reservation isn’t just this poverty-filled, alcoholic area. Those are problems, but we’re working to fix them.”
Concha said she is doing her part to help anchor Native youth in their culture by teaching them the Lakota language. She has worked for a Lakota immersion childcare program during the summer and animated Lakota language videos and online books for children ages 1-5.
“The language is directly linked to our culture and who we are,” she said. “It could make our community and culture so much stronger now. Watching these kids grow and become these incredible fluent speakers is amazing.”
Concha took Lakota language classes at Red Cloud Indian School where she attended high school, but it wasn’t a focus for her, she said. It wasn’t until more recently that she realized the impact the language could have on the Native community if more people were fluent, particularly the next generation.
“I fell in love with the language,” she said. “And I’ve been able to pick it up quickly.”
Concha said she supports people who decide to leave the reservation for work, but is encouraged by people who decide to return after their education to find jobs and help create change. “It’s essential,” she said. “It’s the only way we’re going to help our youth.”
In the fall she will return to Red Cloud Indian School as an employee of Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation to work as a kindergarten teacher in the Lakota Immersion Elementary Track. The track is a partnership between Thunder Valley CDC and Red Cloud Indian School for children to be provided with access to a high-quality education taught in the Lakota language.
It’s following through on her calling, she said.
“Ever since I was young, I said, ‘I’m going to help my people,’” she said. “I didn’t know how, but I knew I was going to.”
As a new teacher, she hopes the little ones she is working with look at her and see a window into their future.
“I hope they see that someone can get an education, come back and be successful and still be immersed in our culture,” she said. “I hope they see that it’s OK to be Lakota.”
The spring 2018 Commencement Ceremony will be broadcast live at BHSU.edu/Classof2018 for those who are unable to attend.
Editor's note: This is an installment of Campaign Roundup, a periodic feature in the Rapid City Journal this election year.
Randy Seiler, a Democratic candidate for state attorney general, turned the tables Thursday on Republicans while making his opening argument to South Dakota voters.
During a formal announcement of his candidacy at the Hotel Alex Johnson in Rapid City, Seiler acknowledged that he formerly worked for current Attorney General Marty Jackley, a Republican, while Jackley was U.S. attorney for South Dakota.
Jackley was the U.S. attorney in 2009 when the state’s then-attorney general, Larry Long, resigned to become a judge. The Republican administration of then-Gov. Mike Rounds appointed Jackley as attorney general.
Seiler said the choice of Jackley was based on sound reasoning.
“Ultimately, when the decision was made who they were going to appoint as attorney general for the state of South Dakota, they looked at a former U.S. attorney based upon his experience, based upon his qualifications, based upon his management of the office, and they selected Marty Jackley to serve as attorney general,” Seiler said.
He added, with a grin, “So to the extent that there’s any precedential value there, I would say they got it right.”
Seiler wants to make a similar move from U.S. attorney for South Dakota — a position he filled from 2015 through 2017 — to attorney general. Prior to leading the U.S. Attorney’s office, Seiler worked as an attorney in the office for 20 years.
Seiler is seeking the Democratic nomination for attorney general, which will be decided by Democrats at their state convention June 15-16 in Sioux Falls. Tatewin Means, the former attorney general of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, is also seeking the party’s nomination.
Republicans will choose their attorney general nominee during their state convention June 20-23 in Pierre. Candidates include John Fitzgerald, the state’s attorney of Lawrence County; Jason Ravnsborg, a deputy state’s attorney for Union County; and Lance Russell, a state senator from Hot Springs.
Each party's nominee will run in the Nov. 6 general election.
Jackley ag/railroad platforms
Jackley, who is term-limited as attorney general and is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in June 5 primary election, released his agriculture and railroad platforms Thursday.
Highlights of the platforms include:
• Enhancing transportation infrastructure, including rail projects at the Wolsey Interchange, Napa Junction, and improvements to existing state-owned rail.
• Expanding value-added agriculture with more flexibility in the use of the REDI Fund and full utilization of the Value-Added Ag Subfund to provide grants and loans for development.
• Expanding access to international markets by promoting sound trade policy and leading South Dakota trade delegations to areas with growing economies such as China, South America and the Pacific Rim.
• Increasing the production of ethanol, oilseeds and biodiesel, supporting the Renewable Fuel Standard and opposing EPA efforts to expand the number of RFS small refinery waivers that reduce South Dakota biofuel production.
The full plan is available on Jackley’s website.
Noem's ‘four pillars’
During an Americans for Prosperity gubernatorial forum in Sioux Falls, U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican candidate for the Republican nomination for governor, summed up her agenda by pledging her adherence to “four pillars of protection.”
As described in a follow-up news release, those pillars are:
• Protection from Tax Increases. "South Dakota is one of just seven states without an income tax — and we need to keep it that way," Noem said. "As governor, I pledge to veto efforts to increase taxes, and I’ve put that commitment in writing when I signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
• Protection from Government Growth. "Under my administration, there would be no new boards, no new commissions, and no new blue ribbon task forces," Noem said. "Instead, we would look to scrub each agency, refocusing and streamlining existing departments while cutting red tape."
• Protection from Federal Intrusion. “When the Army Corps attempted to charge South Dakota for use of our own water from the Missouri River, I successfully fought back as the state’s lone member of the House,” Noem said. “When the federal government came after the Hot Springs VA, I advocated for South Dakota veterans. And when the Second Amendment was attacked, I stood up for our constitutional rights.”
• Protection from Government Secrecy. “Voters have repeatedly supported government integrity measures at the ballot box. I hear you,” Noem said. “As governor, I will build on the recent momentum, working to throw open the doors, not only of the state Capitol, but also encouraging county commission offices and school boards to give you unprecedented access to the government decision-making process at all levels.”
Local forums planned
The Pennington County Republicans recently shared information about two upcoming candidate forums. A Pennington County GOP candidate forum will be at 5:30 p.m. May 15 at the Eagles Club in Rapid City.
An Americans for Prosperity Congressional Forum featuring the candidates for the Republican nomination for U.S. House — Shantel Krebs, Neal Tapio and Dusty Johnson — will be at 7 p.m. May 16 in the Sylvan Room at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in Rapid City.