It only takes a brief conversation with Rep. Dean Wink, R-Howes, to realize this transplanted Iowan has an affinity for the wide-open prairies of western South Dakota.
"It's big open country ... the sunrises and sunsets are something to behold some days," Wink said. "I almost feel sorry to the people that live in the city that don't experience that."
Tall grass, strengthened by good moisture and waving in the wind, completes Wink's ideal vision of the prairie surrounding his Howes-area ranch in eastern Meade County about 70 miles northeast of Rapid City.
"It's just a sight to behold. I'm always awed by it when the sun hits that grass in the late afternoon. I'm just happy I'm here. I'm just blessed to be here," Wink, 69, said on a recent morning.
With his cattle fed, Wink was preparing for his weekly drive to Pierre where the rancher serves as speaker pro tempore in the House of Representatives. He was elected speaker pro tem in 2011; he works closely with House Speaker Brian Gosch, R-Rapid City.
"If I'm re-elected in November, I might have a chance to be speaker," Wink said off-handedly. The District 29 representative has served in the legislature since 2009, representing Meade and Butte counties.
Time on the gridiron
Branding cattle with neighbors; saddling a horse for a ride with the grandchildren; or teaching them to drive a stick shift far from the congestion of city roads. All those things make life on the ranch a good life, Wink said.
Wink's life, however, is not typical when compared to most of his rural neighbors.
The Moville, Iowa, native attended Yankton College, where his lanky, 6-foot-4 frame served him well on the football field and basketball court his first two years in college. Wink gave up basketball to concentrate on football his junior and senior years.
Yankton is also where the biology and physical education major met his future wife, Joan Richardson. They met the first day of college and were married the day after graduation in 1966.
Wink modestly admits receiving a few football awards during his junior and senior years with the Greyhounds. The Philadelphia Eagles noticed and invited him to tryout for the team.
"I thought, 'Why not,'" Wink said with a chuckle.
It was admittedly a big leap from small Yankton College to the NFL in 1966, but Wink gave it a shot. His expectations weren't high, but a tryout could some day give him bragging rights with his grandchildren.
"I signed as a free agent," Wink said. "Once I got there, I found out these guys put their pants on one leg at a time."
Wink ended up on the Eagles' development or taxi squad. The defensive end was called up during the 1968 and 1969 seasons.
"It was a great experience. I'd never gotten to travel that much. It was a good time," Wink said. He used the off-season time to complete a master's degree in education at West Chester State University.
Return to ranching
When shoulder injuries curtailed his football career, Wink returned to Yankton College, where he spent a few years before moving to Arizona so his wife could pursue her educational interests.
Wink soon found himself as a managing partner in a ranching operation near Benson, Ariz. He moved on to work for a Texas cattle company that was the first to clone cattle. "That was kind of exciting," Wink said.
In 1988, the Winks bought the Meade County ranch that Joan Wink's grandfather had homesteaded in the early 1900s.
The Howes ranch became the Winks' permanent home in 1994, although Joan Wink continued her career as a professor at California State University. She retired about five years ago, but continues teaching, speaking and writing about educational theory.
Wink served on the Meade County Commission before being elected to the Legislature.
During the dry years of 2005 and 2006, Wink was instrumental in drilling a deep well that now supplies his ranch and several neighbors with water.
Whatever he tackles, a water system or government, Wink brings a deep understanding of issues and life experiences to the tasks, said his neighbor and fellow legislator, Rep. Gary Cammack, R-Union Center.
Cammack followed Wink onto the Meade County Commission and joined him last year in the Legislature. He considers Wink a mentor.
Cammack also appreciates Wink's calm, steady approach to problems.
"He never gets flustered or excited," Cammack said. "He stays the course and looks for solutions."
Wink's steady hand served him well recently when he won Attorney General Marty Jackley's charity legislative shooting contest.
"He's definitely someone you don't want to run a zig-zag path in front of," Cammack joked.