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THEIRS: Ben Reifel's legacy continues to resonate in the state

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In the last couple of years, one of South Dakota's greatest leaders has been honored several times.

That makes us smile.

You don't have to dig very deep into former U.S. Congressman Ben Reifel's legacy to uncover his consistent courage, perseverance and commitment of service to others.

Reifel (Sept. 19, 1906-Jan. 2, 1990), also known as Lone Feather, was raised on the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Reservation. He has degrees from South Dakota State University and Harvard, and several honorary degrees, including one from Northern State University.

This summer in Sioux Falls at a groundbreaking for a middle school, Reifel was honored as part of his latest namesake. Reifel Middle School is scheduled to open in northwestern Sioux Falls in fall 2021.

That is a great fit. Reifel worked tirelessly for education. He believed that education was the key to lifting up everyone, including his fellow Native Americans.

Farmers also had a great friend in Reifel, who served in Congress for 10 years (1961-71). The Republican was all about service to others, including his country as he achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel during his stint in the Army.

For five years (1955-60), Reifel served as the director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Aberdeen Area Office that oversaw a three-state region. He then became the nation's first elected U.S. representative of Sioux or Lakota descent.

He served on numerous service groups. He also was on the national board for groups like the Protestant Episcopal Church and Boy Scouts of America.

His leadership abilities and style, his sincere interest in others and his insights into how to make the world around him better were invaluable to many. He freely shared his gifts, which is one of the reasons he was so highly sought after by many.

He performed a lifetime of good works.

That is one of the reasons why Reifel has remained relevant in the state he loved and the state that loved him.

In May, U.S. Rep. Dusty Johnson of South Dakota introduced legislation that would rename the post office in Rosebud the Ben Reifel Post Office Building.

A couple of years ago, Gov. Dennis Daugaard designated Sept. 19 as Ben Reifel Day in South Dakota.

Such honors for Reifel started long ago.

In 1990, members of Congress changed the name of Cedar Pass Visitor Center at Badlands National Park to Ben Reifel Visitor Center. Meanwhile, the SDSU campus in Brookings has its Ben Reifel Hall and Sisseton High School has its Ben Reifel Gymnasium.

No one is more deserving of such honors than Reifel.

He was born in a log cabin with a sod roof and dirt floor as one of five boys in his family. He had few resources for education, and he had to work hard to earn it.

"He touched many lives through his lifetime with his commitment of service to others," Reifel's oldest granddaughter Lisa Moss told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader this summer at the middle school groundbreaking. "And he had a way of making others feel like they were significant and important because he was genuinely interested in them. This school will continue that legacy by bearing his name."

We hope the story of Ben Reifel is always told not only in South Dakota schools, but in schools across the nation.

His inspiring story is worth telling over and over again.

— Aberdeen American News

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