SIOUX FALLS | Dorothy L. Erhart, beloved mother, grandmother, teacher and friend, died Aug. 15, 2021, at Dougherty Hospice House in Sioux Falls.
The second of six children, Dorothy was born Sept. 18, 1929, in a farmhouse near Dunbar, NE. Her parents, Charley M. and Ella (Burris) Erhart, were farmers who rented land and moved their growing family several times around southeast Nebraska. Dorothy always said it was her mother's gardens that fed the family through the Great Depression, and for years after.
Dorothy graduated from Talmage, NE, high school in 1948. By taking summer courses, she immediately started her teaching career in local one-room schoolhouses, earning the tuition she needed to complete her degree at Nebraska State Teachers College in Peru, NE. During college, she enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserves and was commissioned a Navy lieutenant upon graduation. Throughout her 10 years of service, she broke glass ceilings across the United States, competing in — and mostly winning! — regional and national Naval marksmanship matches. She eventually completed assignments in Maryland, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and Memphis, TN. She was stationed for two years in Honolulu where she learned to fly a plane. She earned her private pilot's license so she could travel the Hawaiian Islands in the years prior to statehood.
Dorothy made her home in the Black Hills of South Dakota starting in 1964. She completed her master's degree at Black Hills State University.
She was an adventurer who visited all 50 states and six of the seven continents. Her students at Deadwood Elementary benefitted from those travels. They studied the Costa Rican rain forest in a classroom decorated with their own accurate portrayals of flora and fauna based on photos from their teacher's travels. After Ms. Erhart's trip to Antarctica one Christmas vacation, fifth-grade science annually included an in-depth study of the frozen continent and featured members of her extensive penguin collection. Dorothy's interest in space travel sparked the formation of Deadwood's Young Astronauts Club. Model rocket building became an annual class project with students firing their rockets en masse at the football field. Some classes also traveled to Hill City for rocket launches with pen pals from the fifth-grade class there. More than one of her students went on to Space Camp in Huntsville, AL, and Dorothy participated in the teachers' version of Space Camp one summer.
Her 39-year teaching career kept Dorothy young. She often said she loved teaching, particularly older elementary-age students. Many times, Dorothy's family heard from past students who claimed Ms. Erhart as their "favorite teacher of all time." In 1990, she received the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science and Mathematics Teaching. She met President George H.W. Bush in a Rose Garden ceremony to mark the achievement.
A true community leader, Dorothy was a member of various service clubs, including Post 31 American Legion where she was commander and Americanism chair. She was also a member of the VFW Post 5969 Auxiliary, Lead Kiwanis, South Sioux Kiwanis, Lead Deadwood Education Association, South Dakota Education Association, AAUW and PEO. She was among the founders of the Lead-Deadwood chapter of Reading Is Fundamental which provided literacy education for children. She was active in the United Methodist Church in Lead, Sioux Falls and the Dakotas Conference. A long-time member of United Methodist Women, Dorothy also served as administrative council chair and conference delegate for Trinity UMC in Lead. Always honoring her Nebraska heritage and her love for the natural world, Dorothy provided programming and crowds of students for many annual Arbor Day celebrations in Deadwood.
It was Dorothy's desire to influence the future that drove her to support so many youth organizations. She was a Scout and 4-H leader long before she had children of her own, and continued as a Scout leader for years after her kids were grown. She served as a Girl Scout leader in Lead and Deadwood for many years, became a member of the Black Hills Council board and eventually served as board chair and delegate to multiple national Scouting conventions. As a camp director and outdoor skills instructor, it was Dorothy who led groups of young people on hiking or canoeing adventures around the Black Hills. She once rode a horse to the top of Harney Peak with a group of hiking girls because she had broken a bone in her foot during a previous canoeing excursion.
In her retirement, Dorothy continued her service to friends, neighbors and community. She often provided rides for those who could no longer drive, organized blood donation campaigns, and continued a leadership role in church and other organizations.
In 2005, she moved to Sioux Falls to be near family. She attended many of her grandchildren's activities and provided a welcoming after-school hangout featuring snacks and episodes of Jeopardy!
Dorothy is survived by her two children, Michelle Harvey Erpenbach and her husband, Steve, of Sioux Falls, and Jerome F. Harvey and his wife, Paula, of Rapid City; four grandchildren: Max Erpenbach, Big Sky, MT, Jack Erpenbach, Brooklyn, NY, Grace Erpenbach, Minneapolis, MN, and Amelia Harvey, Rapid City; as well as her brother, Les Erhart, Omaha, NE; sister, Evelyn Bruns Seybert, Nebraska City, NE; and several nieces and nephews. She was preceded in death by her parents, two sisters, a brother and infant son.
Funeral services were held Wednesday, Aug. 18, at George Boom Funeral Home. A private family burial service was held at Black Hills National Cemetery near Sturgis.
A public Memorial Reception will be held at noon on Friday, Aug. 20, at Trinity United Methodist Church in the Christian Ministry Center in Lead.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests friends support school teachers by providing their own local schools with gift cards to purchase classroom supplies. Visit georgeboom.com for an online guestbook.