Meet the Spirit of Dakota 2021 nominees


This year marks the 35th anniversary celebration of the Spirit of Dakota Award, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 2, at the Huron Event Center.

This year 10 women have been nominated for this prestigious award. Following is information on each of them.

Angela Ehlers  
“Learn from the past, live in the present, forge a new path, and bring others along on the journey. Angela Ehlers’ focus is always ‘leave this land and people a better place for the next generation.’” Linda Stuckenbroker

Working and caring for the land is in Angela Ehlers’ blood. Angela was born and raised on a diversified crop and livestock operation located between Ft. Pierre National Grasslands and Lower Brule (Kul Wicasa Oyate) Reservation and has spent her entire life as a proud resident of South Dakota. She graduated from South Dakota State University with majors in Commercial Economics and Ag Business.

A fourth generation Lyman County resident and landowner, her roots are deep in South Dakota.

When she began as the Executive Director of the South Dakota Association of Conservation Districts 32 years ago, there was one part-time staff member. Her passion for developing local leaders has grown the Association into an organization that serves over 60 conservation districts and hosts numerous employment contracts.

She has provided leadership in creating new organizations: South Dakota Agriculture Land Trust, the Grasslands Coalition, and the Soil Health Coalition. In the public policy arena, she provides support and leadership on drainage, conservation program funding, road funding and precision ag.

A former newspaper editor and publisher, she is president of the Presho City Council, secretary-treasurer of the Medicine Creek Golf Course, financial administrator of the Lyman County Ambulance District and a 43-year EMT (Emergency Medical Technician).

Angela is described as caring, selfless, and dedicated. Each year on Memorial Day, Angela cares for and decorates the graves of family members. When she noticed many other graves were neglected, she cared for them as well. “They deserve respect and recognition. It is just the right thing to do.”

Angela was nominated by her sisters, Kim Dowling, Linda Stuckenbroker, Becky Diehm and by Brenda Forman.  

Robyn S Freedom Flickinger
“She is so active in our community that there are no projects that she isn’t in the middle of. She does not let Muscular Dystrophy get in her way. Even though it has slowed her down, she still goes beyond what any of us, without disabilities, could do. Robyn Freedom Flickinger is a true prairie woman.” Patti Ward

Robyn Freedom Flickinger always jokes that she doesn’t know if she should wear clogs or moccasins.

Her father’s family came from Holland and her mother was half Cherokee. Robyn was born and raised in De Smet, one of George and Mary Smith’s five children. No matter her footwear, no matter being confined to a wheelchair, Robyn does not let difficulties assign her to life’s sidelines.

After high school, Robyn began studying art at Northern State College until her health issues began.

Later she attended Central Community College in Columbus, Neb. While her 4.0-GPA gave testimony to a highly functioning brain, a muscular dystrophy diagnosis testified to her body’s increasing limitations.

She moved back to De Smet and began working to improve the quality of lives of others.

Robyn first became involved in what is now the Independent Living Center, helping people with disabilities. She provided information about ADA issues, guidelines and programs.

She taught craft classes at the Good Samaritan Nursing Home for four years. For six years she helped organize The North Pole Project — arranging for Santa Claus and his horse-drawn sleigh to deliver presents and to give rides to nursing home residents and children.

For 10 years, Robyn painted life-sized characters of local children and did face-painting at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Pageant. Robyn has been involved in 85 performances of the De Smet Community Theatre.

Beginning in 2006, Robyn has donated her time to SHIINE, the Senior Health Information and Insurance Education program that educates people on Medicare benefits and on how to avoid fraud.

She is also the volunteer coordinator for the Kingsbury County Food Pantry and writes grants to help feed the underprivileged. Part of this grant provides 30-40 children food through the Backpack Program.

She is also the contact point for the state-sponsored Senior Box Program.

She operates Freedom Designs in De Smet, illustrates children’s books, makes cornhusk dolls, pheasant feather items and paints murals.

She was nominated by the De Smet Chamber of Commerce, the City of De Smet and the Kingsbury Country Food Pantry.

Roberta Hindberg
“As an infant, she went to work with her mother, Sylvia Bebo, a nurse. Bobbi Pat soon learned to charm patients around her. It was only natural that she would one day earn a nursing degree from the University of South Dakota.” Diane Philen

Roberta “Bobbi Pat” Hindberg began her nursing career at James Valley Nursing Home in Redfield. She later moved to Sioux Falls and worked for Children’s Care Hospital and School, the Covington Heights Health and Rehabilitation Center, and the Southridge Healthcare Center.

As the Director of Nursing and the Administrator of the Morgan Lane Village Assisted Living in Tea, Roberta was known for her dedication to her residents.

“I have had the advantage of being a recipient of her caregiving nature first at the Southridge Healthcare Center, and later at Morgan Lane Village,” wrote Diane Philen. “When I came to Morgan Lane Village Assisted Living Center, my husband and I were relieved to see Roberta in charge. He knew he was leaving me in caring hands.”

Roberta encouraged the Tea community to visit the Morgan Lane Village. Students from Tea School came to play bingo, performed holiday concerts for the residents and made Halloween visits while wearing their costumes. The children’s Christmas concerts lifted the sprits of the residents. These interactions also helped introduce the youth to possible careers.

Sadly, the visits from the students came to an end with the arrival of COVID-19. The pandemic also brought with it a greater need for Roberta to be at home with her three daughters. Recognizing that some people cannot adapt to communal living, Roberta felt the call to action. She began providing people with the supports that they need if they are to remain in their homes. Roberta became the Director of Nursing for Right At Home.

Roberta and her husband Chad have three daughters, Hayden and Emmalee are at home and Kimberlee is a freshman at South Dakota State University majoring in nursing. Roberta was nominated by Diane Philen of Tea.

Caryn Hojer
Caryn is a woman “whose character, courage, strength, determination, leadership, humility, diligence, selflessness and service to all those around her is the sole purpose of her life.” Jill Hoek

Caryn Hojer is the ultimate servant leader. She would tell you that her full-time job is serving as the Kingsbury County Register of Deeds. That is inaccurate according to those who have nominated her. Her full-time job is the endless hours and commitment she gives to her community and to those around her.

Caryn has been a volunteer EMT for De Smet Fire and Rescue for 18 years, has served as an officer for 14 years and is also known to drive the ambulance. Recently, while she was on vacation from the Register of Deeds office, she assisted in five 200-mile round trip ambulance runs from De Smet to Sioux Falls, logging 1,000 miles to help people in her community.

Caryn also serves on the Local Emergency Planning Committee for Kingsbury County and served as the 2008 president of the SD Association of County Officials. She is also active in the American Lutheran Church and the De Smet High School Music Boosters.

This divorced, single parent of four productive children has instilled in them her spirit of public service and of random acts of kindness. Three of her children are EMTs for the local ambulance and fire departments.

For over three decades it has been a Hojer family tradition to do a random act of kindness for someone in the community. On Christmas morning “they share their acts with each other while preserving the identity of the recipient.”

Throughout the year she can be found cleaning up tree damage for a stage 4 cancer patient on hospice, sitting with a friend’s husband who is afflicted with Alzheimer’s, driving a neighbor to chemotherapy appointments, or fundraising to meet community needs. She also provided care for a bachelor uncle who suffered from dementia and sundowners — rescuing him from many dangers. “She treats every citizen with the utmost respect and leads by example through her selfless actions,” writes Becky Geyer.  
Caryn Hojer lives in De Smet. Co-worker Audrey Lembke writes, “I have known her for a number of years. [She] is an amazing young woman who quietly helps others and deserves to be recognized for her compassion and commitment to our community.” Caryn was nominated by Becky Geyer, Audrey Lembke and Jill Hoek.

Sandra Larson
“With an intense commitment to her fellow citizens, community and state, Sandy Larson has been the mainstay and principal driving force for several organizations in the Box Elder community in addition to over 40 years of service in the Douglas School District.” Robert B. Perceval

As an elementary school librarian with the Douglas School District, Sandy Larson introduced thousands of students to the library and helped them come to love books. As librarian, she also took a leadership role in planning many staff events and was looked to for leadership and training in technology.

Retiring after 43 years as librarian, Sandy became involved in the Box Elder Chamber of Commerce and quickly found herself on the Board of Directors. For the past two years she has been the president. “Her efforts have ignited membership and civic involvement from local businesses and elements from Ellsworth Air Force Base,” wrote Robert B. Perceval. Sandy has been credited with transforming the Chamber into “an organization that is relevant.” Chamber membership has grown from 16 to 63.

Attendance at monthly Chamber Mixers has grown fivefold. She helped establish a partnership between the City of Box Elder and the Chamber of Commerce which led to hiring a Marketing and Events Coordinator. Sandy was an integral part inventing the first ever “Salute to Ellsworth,” an afternoon of activities for the Ellsworth and Box Elder community. The first year there were 500 attendees. The number doubled the following year.

Her leadership has resulted in other civic events such as the Family Food Truck Nights and summer Family Movie Nights. These events are designed to enrich the Box Elder/Ellsworth community. As one of the founding members of the Box Elder Pioneers, she works to preserve the history of the Box Elder area.

Sandy is involved with many fundraising activities which involve the combined efforts of civic organizations. Most of these fundraising activities go to support Douglas School students. These funds have provided bicycles for elementary students, sent high schoolers to Girls’ State, provided Veterans Day programs, and sponsored the Christmas Gift Shop at Fort Meade.

Sandy’s time is dedicated to strengthening bonds between people and organizations and to improving the quality of life in her community. Sandy and her husband Larry have two children, Sarah (Larson) Brooks and Christopher Larson. Sandy was nominated by her husband, Larry Larson; Dennis Wagner, Box Elder Area Chamber of Commerce; and Robert B. Perceval, Major US Army, retired.

Coleen Liebsch
“In an American culture rife with self-serving attitudes, Coleen does not fit the mold. She invests her time and money, not to create more wealth for herself, but to create meaningful memories for our children,” states Lisa Parry.

In 2015, while volunteering in the Arlington Schools, Coleen Liebsch came upon her son and other students sitting in the hallway. She asked what was happening. He responded, “We’re here so we aren’t in the way of the kids who have money for the book fair. A mortified Coleen realized she had forgotten to send money with her son that day. As she looked at the students, she realized some would sit in the hallway during every book fair. She realized that book fairs could divide children into the haves and the have nots. In response, she established a program to supply books to all children regardless of economic status.

Books 4 Kids Program was designated a 501C3 organization in 2016. It serves schools across South Dakota by bringing authors and books to classrooms. Authors read their books to the students then a discussion follows. Each child then receives a book.

In its first six years, 35,000 children throughout South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Kentucky, Virginia, and Texas have received books. Coleen has even distributed books to children in four other countries.

There is even more to the Books 4 Kids Program. Coleen not only travels far and wide, but she also motivates youth to follow their dreams by helping them become authors through the Write Across America Contest. Through this contest several authors, ages 8-12, have had books published.

Coleen’s community activity extends far beyond Books 4 Kids. She also helped start the Backpack Program in Arlington, spearheaded a campaign for new playground equipment at Arlington Elementary, served as the President of the Chamber of Commerce and has been the community coordinator for Tour Dakota. She is also active in her church. All of this is accomplished even as she battles degenerative disk syndrome.

Coleen and her husband Tom have three children: Thomas, Tyler, and Krista. Coleen was nominated by Stacey Jensen, Douglas O’Neil, and Lisa Parry.  

Jody Moritz
“Living and breathing community spirit, Judy is a triple-threat of intelligence, hard work, and dedication to ideals bigger than herself.” LeShea Avery

In 1977, Jim Moritz, his wife Jody and their two sons moved to Faulkton to operate the Faulk County Record, a weekly newspaper. As they worked together to make the paper a success, Jody became a vital force in Faulkton.

Jody’s passions include providing for community needs, promoting Fine Arts, and preserving history.

Jody updated her teaching certificate and taught Language Arts and American Government while also directing plays and oral interpretation. She serves tirelessly in church activities, including an ecumenical quilting group that donates quilts to Lutheran World Relief, the Orphan Grain Train and the local woman’s shelter. Jody is also the current secretary of the Faulkton Country Community Transit Authority. As such, she is responsible for organizing transportation for residents who need medical services on a daily or weekly basis.

A member of the Arts Council, Jody is active in the sponsorship of children’s theatre performances, artist-in-residence programs, the murder mystery dinners, and the Arts and Crafts Expo.

Jody is best known for her unquenchable thirst for historical knowledge and preservation. President of the Faulkton County Historical Society, Jody has helped obtain and administer a grant for the preservation of the Pickler Mansion. Known also as the “Pink Palace,” the Mansion began as Major Pickler’s claim shanty and grew into a three-story, 20 room Victorian home which hosted Teddy Roosevelt and Susan B. Anthony. In 1982, Jody published a book on the mansion’s history. Currently secretary of the American Legion Auxiliary, she has been helping to secure grants for refurbishing the Foncannon American Legion Post 102 Hall. The Hall has been a fixture of the community since the end of WWI, hosting many community’s events and even has a four-lane bowling alley in the basement.

Jody and her husband Jim have two children and six grandchildren. She was nominated by Judy Falast, Jan Hadrick and LeShea Avery.

Kristi Noem
“As the first female Governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem has blazed an incredible trail as a role model for female roles within our government as a marvelous role model for the younger generation to emulate. Future generations will certainly draw from her shining example.” Joy C. Nelson

Born in Watertown, Kristi Noem graduated from Hamlin High School. She was named South Dakota Snow Queen in her senior year. It was an experience that she credits with helping her polish her promotional skills and her public speaking skills.

After high school, she attended Northern State University. Her full-time college studies were disrupted when her father lost his life in a farm machinery accident. She married Bryon Noem, and, with her siblings, ran the family businesses. Kristi graduated from South Dakota State University in 2011 with a major in political science.

Kristi served the 6th District in the South Dakota House of Representatives District from 2007 to 2011.

She was elected to the United States House of Representatives, becoming the fourth woman to represent South Dakota. On Jan. 5, 2019, she was elected as the 33rd Governor of South Dakota.

In his letter of support, Robert Hotchkiss states that Kristi “has stood tall in our state and she has stood tall also in the National Spotlight. I have been very proud to sit in on some of her phone calls with the mayors of our state and you can hear the confidence and leadership in her voice. Governor Noem’s actions speak for themselves.”

Joy C. Nelson adds, “Her leadership qualities during her terms in the State of South Dakota House and United States House are without question. She always stood unshakable for the people of her state and fought hard for them. She has the incredible courage to stand for her convictions for her people and will not let others sway that conviction if she firmly believes in the course she has chosen for South Dakota. It is daring and it is bold, and she stands the test of time in that regard. I have always known Governor Noem to have a serving heart. She always goes beyond the call of duty and is a tireless worker for whatever she firmly believes in and is always willing to listen to anyone.”

Governor Kristi Noem and her husband Bryon have three children — Kassidy, Kennedy, and Booker. She was nominated by Robert Hotchkiss and Joy C. Nelson.

Marileen Bradbury Tilberg
“She is a visionary and a doer. If there is a task to be done to benefit the citizens of Sully County, Marileen will be on the front lines pushing toward completion. Falling back on her journalism background, she digs deeply, obtains details, forms a committee, and completes the task.” Tawana Grueb

A life-long South Dakotan, Marileen Tilberg is the daughter of Theo Bradbury, editor/publisher for several small-town newspapers. He assigned Marileen to report 4-H and other club news when she was in high school. Thus began her career as a journalist. At college, Marileen worked on South Dakota State University’s Collegian. She was the first woman to hold an office in South Dakota State’s chapter of the national journalistic society, Sigma Delta Chi. Previously it had been a male-only society. In 1972, she received a degree in journalism and became the editor of the Lemmon Leader in Lemmon.

A memorable interview she conducted while in Lemmon was with a Conservation Officer named Darell Tilberg. The interview went well! They married and had two children. When Darell’s job relocated them to Onida, they arrived just as the community was preparing its centennial celebration. Marileen joined the staff of the Onida Watchman helping to assemble the special centennial edition.

She became a school secretary and went on become the Superintendent’s Office Manager and the District Ordering Clerk. She also was Rodeo Club Advisor, Assistant Athletic Photographer, and in what has become a tradition, taught second graders to weave wheat ornaments. Marileen also became active in community organizations: Wheatland Lions, Progress Extension Club, and the Methodist Church. She is a past president and secretary of the South Dakota Peace Officers Auxiliary.

Marileen is the Executive Director of the Onida Area Economic Development Corporation. She has been a key driving force in bringing the RingNeck Energy ethanol plant to Onida and in establishing The Phoenix Center. She also served as president of the Chamber of Commerce.

Marileen has been recognized as Sully County Extension Council’s 2012 First Lady, the 2015 Sully County Friend of the Fair, and the 2018 Sully County Friend of 4-H.

Marileen was editor of The Watchman from 2005-2020. Sheila Ring observed, “As editor, she covered local stories that she knew would upset some people, recognized the importance of her work as a historian and an impartial news source, and became an example of the courage required to do things for the greater good. Her vision, courage and strength of character make her a role model for present and future generations.” The Watchman won 48 first-place awards while Marileen was editor. Marileen was nominated by Sheila Ring, Tawana Grueb and Curt Olson.

Linda Witt
“A lifelong South Dakota girl, a community service participant and innovator, an educator both in and out of the classroom, a Professional School Counselor and a Master Gardener, Linda has a detailed and lengthy history of community involvement.” Barbara B. Ohleen

Linda Witt grew up on a farm near Langford, SD. After high school, she attended South Dakota State University, earning a degree in Home Economics. Linda, husband Steve, and sons, Shawn and Damon, raise Polled Hereford and Gelbvieh cattle along with small grains, corn, and hay.

Linda taught for 41 years in Bristol, Langford, Webster, and Roslyn schools. She also earned degrees in biology and art. In 1991, she received a Master of Science Degree in Guidance and Counseling. She served as a counselor in the Webster and Roslyn School Districts.

Linda was a 4-H leader with an enthusiasm for gardening, home beauty and foods. She was also a Home Economics teacher whose students recall that she ran “a tight ship and had a strong curriculum.”  
Linda also set an example for her students by being a student herself. When she began teaching in Bristol, she was surprised to learn that she was also going to be teaching art. Not having an art endorsement, she quickly began classes and provided her students with an intense course of study in various mediums. One of her former students, Joan Bartell Swim writes: “Linda taught the basics as if she were a veteran art teacher. I admire her greatly and am intensely grateful.”

A Master Gardener, Linda has been a member and officer of many gardening clubs. She was president of the SDFGC for two years and has been a nationally accredited flower show judge for 25 years. A frequent presence at the horticulture booths at the Day County and S.D. State Fair, she is also active with the Rocky Mountain Regional Garden Club. Linda was also on the Little International Staff SDSU.

Arranging flowers — fresh, silk, and/or dried, is a passion that has earned her many ribbons at competitions.

Linda’s dedication to quality has earned her recognition from multiple directions. In 1989, she received the 1989 Robertson Memorial Award from the South Dakota State Horticulture Society. In 2008, she was named the South Dakota School Counselor of the Year by the S.D. School Counselor Association.

Linda was nominated by Sharon McBroom, Barbara B. Ohleen, and Joan Bartell Swim.

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