Sandra Horsman and a small, but appreciative, crowd were able to give a group of Vietnam veterans a proper welcome home at the kickoff of the Sturgis Big Read Thursday.
Horsman, director of the VA Black Hill Health Care System, says she noticed something special about Sturgis when she and her husband moved to the Black Hills two years ago.
"This community and this state are so supportive of their veterans," she said.
She also said she appreciated the opportunity to thank the Vietnam veterans at the Sturgis Big Read kickoff event on Thursday. Horsman said it was time to offer a proper welcome-home for those who served.
So she invited all veterans in attendance to join her on stage. The entire crowd stood and gave the veterans an ovation.
Horsman, along with Teresa Forbes, public affairs officer, presented commemorative pins to 25 Vietnam War veterans who were present.
She said the VA Black Hills Healthcare System is a sponsor of the United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration. The 50th anniversary commemoration is a chance to thank and honor the nation’s Vietnam veterans and their families for their service and sacrifice, she said.
The Vietnam War Commemoration began with the presidential inaugural event at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. on Memorial Day, May 28, 2012, and concludes on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2025, by presidential proclamation.
Horsman, whose father served during the Vietnam War, said sadly there was a time when bands, parades and cheering crowds were not the welcome-home that troops received.
"Today we have the opportunity to correct the inexcusable homecoming for many of our Vietnam veterans. Because I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, this stikes a deep chord within me," she said.
Horsman said this commemoration marks the second chance for proud Americans to do it right.
"We can't erase the hurt that the returning service members felt when their friends and neighbors shouted, spat on them or simply ignored their return from service, but we can give them the proper welcome home today, shake their hands, look them in the eye and truly thank them for their sacrifice."
The 50th anniversary commemoration will take place over 13 years because that is the length of time the Americans served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War.
"Now, our entire nation is involved in remembering and reflecting on the legacy of the Vietnam War," she said.
Collaborating since the summer of 2016, Sturgis Big Read Community Committee hosted the Sturgis Big Read Kickoff and Book Distribution at Harley-Davidson Rally Point .
Dedi LaRue, Sturgis Arts Council, opened the ceremony followed by the Sturgis Post 33 Honor Guard, Ken Sabers and Darrell Pulscher posting the colors. The Sturgis Area Arts Council with the Sturgis Public Library and Chamber of Commerce all collaborated with community leaders and veterans to create a series of programs on the Vietnam War and veterans that served during it.
The series centers around a novel titled "The Things They Carried," by Tim O'Brien, whose own tour of duty in Vietnam served as the inspiration for the book. All in attendance received a free copy of the book and were encouraged to return it to the library after reading the story so others can also enjoy the book. Author Tim O’Brien will be in Sturgis on Friday, Sept. 22 at the Sturgis Community Center at 6 p.m. for a reception and at 7 p.m. for a presentation in the theater.
On Thursday, Kathy Dykstra, Sturgis Children’s Librarian, and Charlie Nonhof handed out puzzle pieces and asked everyone to take one and draw "what peace means to me" and then it will be displayed in the library. Kate Fjelstad sang and played the guitar during the event.
Screening of the Vietnam War was presented in a 17-minute preview. The series will be shown on South Dakota Public TV beginning Sunday, Sept. 17 and is a 10-day series.
Sturgis Mayor Mark Carstensen thanked the crowd on hand for showing up for what he called "a wonderful event."
"I want to thank all the organizations and volunteers that put this event together," he said.
He commended the Sturgis Area Arts Council for bringing culture to the community.
"All the hours and all the effort put into this help to make our community a better place," he said.
Members of the Sturgis Big Read Committee are: Dorothy Pulscher - Sturgis Area Arts Council, Julie Moore Peterson - Sturgis Public Library, Heidi Mayer Kruse - Sturgis Area Chamber of Commerce - Meade School District, Anne Bodman - Area Storyteller / Community Member, Jerry Lolley - Vietnam Veteran, Keith Marshall - Vietnam Veteran, Dick Turnwall - Vietnam Veteran, John Price - Vietnam Veteran, Justine Burgraff - Sturgis Center for the Arts, Francie Ganje - Homeslice Media Group / KBHB Radio, Deb Holland - Meade County Times, Jane Abernathy - Piedmont Public Library, Francie Ruebel Alberts - Sturgis Area Arts Council, Roxie Chowen - Sturgis Center for the Arts, Sylvia DeJarlais - Community Member and Dedi LaRue - Sturgis Arts Council.
Vern Jones left a legacy of service in Sturgis during his lifetime. Now, he's leaving a legacy that will benefit generations to come in the Northern Hills community.
Jones, who was raised ranches near Sundance, Wyo., and Whitewood, and graduated from Sturgis High School in 1949, left nearly $1.2 million in a charitable trust called the South Dakota Community Foundation Vern Jones Fund upon his death in February.
According to Beth Massa, the South Dakota Community Foundation's West River Development and Program Officer, 4.5 percent of that fund will be distributed each year to the First Interstate Greater Sturgis Area Fund which it will award to local organizations.
Board members are Brett Lynass, Rosemary Roth, Bruce McFarland, Terry Hermann, Dawn Geppert, Dean Kinney, Kathy Behrens and Luci Bradley.
"You think of this very nice man who did something so selfless. It's so heartwarming," Roth said. "This is a blessing now and for many years to come."
For the first 12 years of his life, Jones' family lived near Sundance, Wyo., where they operated a dairy. As soon as he was old enough, Vern was expected to milk cows in the morning and evening as well as go to school.
In April of 1944, the family moved to a ranch about 4 miles northeast of Whitewood. Vern attended Hathaway School through the eighth grade then Sturgis High School where he graduated in the class of 1949.
Jones worked the family ranch most of his life. His sister, Thelma Bottum, said that when their father, Richmond, died in 1987, their mother, Eva, inherited the ranch but chose to sign it over to her sons, Vern and Dick.
"The major workload still fell on Vern’s shoulders as Dick was only available on weekends because he had a fulltime job elsewhere," Bottum said. " While they shared ownership during the remaining years of our mother’s life and Vern made the decision to remain here as long as she lived, he also decided that once she died he 'wanted to do others things with his life,' and that 'I’ve done farm work since I was six and 63 years is long enough!'"
The ranch was sold at auction in August 2000 allowing Vern at age 69 to move on and never look back.
In anticipation of the future sale of the ranch, Vern sought legal and financial advice to avoid the tax consequences that would result from the increase in the land value. He also had the idea that he wanted to do something to benefit the general community in which he’d lived so many years; having never married, he had no direct heirs and felt that his two sisters and their families were well able to provide for themselves, and his brother would benefit from his half of the sale proceeds.
So, he met with Attorney Dale Hansen and others which led to the creation of a charitable remainder trust to be managed by Pioneer Bank and Trust and upon his death those funds were to be sent to the South Dakota Community Foundation Vern Jones Fund.
His will also directed that all other assets were to be sold and proceeds after expenses were to be deposited there as well; then income from his fund would be distributed yearly to the First Interstate Greater Sturgis Area Fund whose advisory boards would grant monies to worthy organizations who applied for assistance. "From conception in 1999 until his death in 2017 Vern remained steadfastly committed to his plan," his sister said.
About a year ago, the city proclaimed Vern Jones Day honoring him for what he did best, helping others. At that time, Jones was a greeter at the Meade County Senior Citizens Center, active in Kiwanis Club with the Food Pantry and was busy all week long during the Grace Lutheran Church rally breakfast.
His love of the land and his generosity was shown by his beautiful yard. He donated flowers and garden produce to anyone in need. He was also generous with his time and resources, especially to children.
Thelma Bottum said her brother understood the importantance of having social interaction with his peers and keeping his mind and body active which led him to join the Meade County Senior Center after he moved to Sturgis.
"There he found old friends, made new friends, and shared all of his unique talents - he baked cookies, cakes and pies; canned fruit, made pickles, jelly and salsa; grew vegetables and flowers, and even embroidered dishtowels," she said.
His sister LaVon Peek echoed those sentiments.
"He liked puttering in his kitchen, not preparing meals, but baking cakes, bars, cookies—most donated to friends and, again, the senior center," she said. "His favorite hobby was jelly making. His shelves were full of various kinds of berry jelly, especially choke cherry. He loved choke cherry picking, and usually had two or three gallon jars of juice set aside 'for later.'"
His sister, Thelma summed up her brother this way.
"My brother was a simple man with simple needs but with a big heart who was willing to share his generosity - time or money - with others who needed a little help or maybe a little teasing to cheer them up," she said.
The gift will be an amazing benefit to the community of Sturgis for years to come, says Lynass.
"He cared very deeply for Sturgis," Lynass said.
Sept. 10, 1 p.m.: “What are the Things They Carried? - Rod Green, American Legion Post 311, 101 Pine Street, Piedmont
Sept. 11, 5:30 p.m.: Community Book Discussion - Training for Moderators & Discussion Leaders I Sturgis Public Library, 1040 Harley-Davidson Way, Sturgis
Sept. 15, noon: Vietnam War: The American Experience - Larry Mayes, Colonel USAF (Retired), Sturgis Public Library, 1040 Harley-Davidson Way, Sturgis
Sept. 16, 7 p.m.: - Keynote: Considering the Things they Carried - Sturgis Community Center Theater, 1401 Lazelle St, Sturgis, Music by Paul Peterson and Loren Erickson. Presentation by Jason McEntee, Associate Professor & Department Head of English SDSU
Sept. 19, 7 p.m.: Community Book Discussion - Discussion Leaders: Anne Bodman & Francie Ruebel Alberts I Sturgis Public Library, 1040 Harley-Davidson Way, Sturgis
Sept. 21, 7 p.m.: Community Book Discussion - Discussion Leader: Jane Abernathy, Piedmont Valley Library, 111 2nd Street, Piedmont
Sept. 22, 9:30 a.m.: School Book Discussion - Author Tim O’Brien, Sturgis Brown HS, 1290 E Hwy 34, Sturgis
Sept. 22: Community Presentation - Author Tim O’Brien, Sturgis Community Center, 1401 Lazelle St, Sturgis; 6 p.m. Author Reception & Live 60s Medley, Meade Room; 7 p.m. Reflections on the Things They Carried presentation by Tim O’Brien, Community Center Theater
Sept. 23: Black Hills Veterans March & Marathon
Sept. 25, 1 p.m.: Community Book Discussion - Discussion Leader: John Tesnow, Old Fort Meade Museum, Building 55, Sheridan Street, Fort Meade
Sept. 29, noon: Nation in Turmoil: Larry Mayes, Col USAF (Retired), Sturgis Public Library, 1040 HD Way
Oct. 3, 6 p.m.: Vietnam Combat Vet Round-Table - Moderated by Michael Fellner, Ph.D. , Erskine Building, County Commissioners Room, 1300 W Sherman St, Sturgis
Oct. 5, noon: Community Book Discussion - Armchair Travelers Bookclub, Sturgis Public Library, 1040 Harley-Davidson Way, Sturgis
Oct. 5, 6 p.m.: Battles on the Homefront: The Families of War Roundtable - Moderated by Francie Ganje, Erskine Building, County Commissioners Room, 1300 W Sherman St, Sturgis
Oct. 5, 6 p.m.: Cooking with Wine - Vietnamese & Asian Dishes, Belle Joli Sparkling House, 3951 Vanocker Canyon Road, Sturgis (RSVP - $25 Wine Club Members - $30 Non-members)
Oct. 13, noon: The Experience of the Vietnamese Immigrant - Presented by Anh Nguyen Harper, DDS, Sturgis Public Library, 1040 Harley-Davidson Way, Sturgis
Oct. 15, 2 p.m.: USO Variety Show I Sturgis Community Center Theater, 1401 Lazelle St, Sturgis (Admission charged)
Oct. 19, 7 p.m.: The Road to Hope: Preventing Military Suicides - Presented by Dr. Bill Meirose, Erskine Building, County Commissioners Room, 1300 W Sherman St, Sturgis
Oct. 21, 5 p.m.: Sergeant Colton Levi Derr Foundation - Gallantly Forward 2017 Gala, Rushmore Plaza Civic Center, LaCroix Hall, 444 N. Mount Rushmore Rd, Rapid City
Oct. 22, 1 p.m.: Perspectives - 50 Years of Conflict - Presented by MSG Kristi “Cricket” Palmer, CPS - Master Religious Affairs NCO - SDNG, American Leg Post 311, 101 Pine Street, Piedmont
Oct. 26, 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Closing Reception - Sturgis Pop-Up Art Show "What Does Peace Look Like?" Sturgis Public Library - Sturgis First Interstate Bank - Sturgis for the Arts
Oct. 26, 7 p.m.: PTSD - Now & Then - Presented by Michael Fellner, Ph.D. I Erskine Building, County Commissioners Room, 1300 W Sherman St, Sturgis
Nov. 4, 9 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.: The Faces of Agent Orange - Moderated by Maynard Kaderlik I Erskine Building, County Commissioners Room, 1300 W Sherman St, Sturgis (Co-sponsored by Vietnam Veterans of America)
Nov. 7, 5 p.m.: Community Book Discussion - Discussion Leader to be Determined, Sturgis Motorcycle Museum & Hall of Fame, 999 Main Street, Sturgis
Nov 10, 2 p.m.: Veteran’s Day Assembly in the Sturgis Williams Middle School Gym, Open to Public
Nov. 11, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Closing Presentation: Larry Zimmerman, SD Sec of Military & Vet Affairs, Vets Club, 868 Main Street, Sturgis