If the existence of a Berlin Wall memorial in Rapid City seems random, well, that’s mostly because it is.
There was no particular motivation for bringing a piece of the wall to the city, other than a whim, according to the man who made it happen.
“It was just a neat thing for us to have out here,” 81-year-old Dale Clement recalled this week.
The pieces of the wall were installed in Memorial Park in 1996. Its roots lie in a mid-1990s traveling Berlin Wall exhibit that came to the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology.
Clement, who was then an executive at Black Hills Corp., played host to a man who was associated with the exhibit.
After the exhibit, Clement took a call from Gale Holbrook, who was then a Pennington County commissioner. Holbrook suggested that since the traveling exhibit had been so successful, perhaps Clement should buy a piece of the wall for permanent display in Rapid City.
Clement called his contact with the traveling exhibit, and soon he was the owner of a Berlin Wall segment and a pair of tank traps. The purchase price, he recalls, was a few thousand dollars.
Others soon joined the effort to display the newly acquired items, including Paul Reinke, who was an early partner in the project with Clement. The privately financed memorial was erected with interpretive panels and eventually turned over to city ownership.
And that’s how Rapid City’s Berlin Wall Memorial came to stand in Memorial Park near the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center. Clement said it’s a fitting place for a tribute to freedom, given Rapid City’s proximity to the Shrine of Democracy (Mount Rushmore) and also to Ellsworth Air Force Base, which contributed bombers to the 1940s Berlin Airlift humanitarian mission.
Clement said it is freedom he will think about this weekend on the 25th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s collapse.
“You can tie people up,” Clement said, “but they also have to come free at some time.”
Contact Seth Tupper at email@example.com