STURGIS | The late Albert and Laverne Elliott continue to give back to their adopted hometown, more than 60 years after choosing Sturgis and the Black Hills out of a magazine.
On Tuesday, the Albert and Laverne Elliott Children’s Learning Center was formally unveiled, the culmination of a $600,000 renovation project the Sturgis Public Library, expanding the children's library and community space.
Through the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, the Elliott family donated $200,000 to the library project, along with another perpetual endowment through the Foundation that will provide a continual resource for the library.
“If my parents were here, I think they’d say that this project is an important investment in the children of Sturgis. Thank you,” said Mike Elliott during Tuesday’s open house and unveiling in Sturgis.
On Monday, Mike Elliott and his wife, Kathy, of Chicago accepted the Sturgis Medal of Honor on behalf of Albert, who died in 1992, and Laverne, who died in 2018, for their philanthropic works in the community.
The Sturgis City Council and Mayor Mark Carstensen also proclaimed Tuesday as Albert and Laverne Elliott Day in Sturgis.
Along with the Library project, the family established the Albert and Laverne Elliott First Responder Fund, which generated a gift to the family of Sturgis Fire Department assistant chief Dave Fischer, who lost his life while responding to a September 2018 house fire in Tilford.
The Albert and Laverne Elliott Fund for Arts and Literacy, through the Black Hills Area Community Foundation, will provide an ongoing grant resource for charitable work in Sturgis.
They have also provided monetary gifts to the Sturgis Area Arts Council and the Old Fort Meade Museum.
Albert was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1911, the son of an opera singer and raised by a nanny. Laverne was born in the west Texas town of Stamford in 1924 and raised in Abilene.
They met during World War II and were married in 1943, before Albert shipped out to the Pacific, where he served in a medical unit with the U.S. Army Air Corps.
After Albert’s return from the war in 1946, he and Laverne settled in west Texas where their son Mike was born.
The family moved to South Dakota in 1953, after seeing a Life Magazine story on the Black Hills.
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The story goes that the couple were so taken with South Dakota from that article, that when the Veterans Administration offered Albert a transfer to the VA Hospital at Fort Meade, they jumped at the opportunity.
Albert went on to serve as Chief of Medical Administration at Fort Meade until his retirement in 1980.
Laverne earned a teaching degree from Black Hills Teachers College and began her education career as a kindergarten teacher in Deadwood in September of 1959, the same week as the start of the Deadwood Fire.
She later taught first grade in Sturgis, first at the Badger Clark School and then at Sturgis Elementary, retiring in 1988.
Both Albert and Laverne immersed themselves in the community.
Albert served on the Board of Directors of the Sturgis Titans, a minor league baseball team; he also served as treasurer. He was involved in the Basin League Baseball Association and supported youth sports in Sturgis. He was active in Naja Shrine, the Scottish Rite Masons, Rotary, Optimist Club and served on the Vestry at St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
Throughout her life, Laverne was active in local organizations including the Sturgis Area Arts Council, Fort Meade History Museum, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Delta Kappa Gamma and PEO.
“My mother was always a committed educator,” Mike said.
Laverne’s objective, he said, was to make sure every child in her class could read by the end of the school year, and she did that by making teaching and learning fun.
“As a result, there were a lot of parents who wanted their kid in her class. But she would like the library because it is fun,” he said.
Mike Elliott said the First Responders Fund struck a chord because of the Fischer family’s service to the community.
“When I read about his background and his service to the city, that’s the kind of person my parents would want to step up for,” Mike said. “We have to do this.”