2023 - a year of building and winning in the Heartland

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HURON — The theme for 2022 was evident in the Heartland area, as two “once in a lifetime” derechos struck the Huron area over the summer, leading to themes of battling Mother Nature, community support, and rebuilding.

This year’s theme in the region is not so blatant, but a few different items emerged.

Building
Huron continues significant progress, and multiple long-term building projects reached completion in 2023.

The most notable construction project that reached completion was the DEX building on the South Dakota State Fairgrounds. Multiple lawmakers and even a statewide news agency called into question the length of construction time for the massive facility.

The DEX replaced the former beef complex, which was lost to fire in October 2020. Insurance and fundraising paid for a notable part of the cost of construction, but as construction costs escalated during the pandemic, the facility’s price tag continued to balloon, leading to some cutbacks in the overall scope of the building. Construction began in the spring of 2022.

The building was ready to host animals for this year’s State Fair and has held the South Dakota Rodeo Association finals and a rodeo showcase event over Thanksgiving weekend since the ribbon-cutting on the first day of the 2023 South Dakota State Fair. Many more events are already being negotiated for the space on a year-round basis.

The Beadle County Highway Department’s new building has been a work in progress that went through construction struggles, but finally reached the finish line in 2023. An open house was held for the new facility on October 17 for the public to view the new building, which should allow for significantly better upkeep on the vehicles that we rely upon to keep our roads clear in the winter and smooth the rest of the year.

Care for those who are sick and aging was also a focus in 2023’s building, as ground was broken on the Peaceful Pines Senior Living facility in north Huron to offer Huron residents another option for a comfortable place to call home in their final years. Huron Regional Medical Center continued to add to the Huron community, with the remodeled dialysis unit serving its first patients in June.

After completing a new Career and Technical Education (CTE) building in 2022, the Huron School District was able to utilize the new facility for home building instruction. In July, the first home build entirely indoors in the new CTE facility was transported to its owners.

New businesses came into town as well, as more than twenty businesses opened in Huron. Scooters Coffee did destruction on the former Farmers and Merchants Bank location at 18th Street and Dakota Avenue, and built up the building in order to be open in the fall (just in time for some pumpkin spice!). Tokyo Hibachi went through a notable renovation fo the former Ground Round restaurant building and has been open since fall, offering Huron residents new dining tastes previously unavailable in the region.

The construction and building is not done, either. The removal and replacement of the city parking ramp on the South side of the Huron Event Center will be completed with paving in the spring months of 2024. A combination Dollar Tree/Family Dollar will be opening on 21st Street Southwest soon after the new year.

The largest project to come in 2024 will certainly be the Dakota Avenue project with the South Dakota Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT project will completely remake South Dakota Highway 37, known as Dakota Avenue within the city, beginning in 2024 with a project that will start at 3rd Street North and finish at 9th Street South.

DOT will work through the downtown area as part of this work, and some notable changes will be coming to the traffic flow, lighting, and beautification of the downtown area as part of investment that the City of Huron is putting into the project as it comes through the area. This will mean some detours around the construction while it’s going on, but the end result will be a notable improvement for Huron.


Courtesy photo - Kenedee Rowen relishes the powerlifting success that led a third-place finish at the national championships and a scholarship at Midland University.

Winning

For teams and athletes in the Heartland region, 2023 was a very successful year, indeed.

The De Smet Bulldogs boys’ basketball team may feel robbed by the pandemic at this point. When the Bulldogs defeated Lower Brule 62-48 in a rematch of the previous year’s championship game, they claimed their third state title in a row. The Bulldogs were also notably the top seed going into the 2020 state tourney before it was cancelled due to COVID and had lost in 2019 to Clark/Willow Lake in the finals, which could have given the Bulldogs five straight trips to the championship game!

The Bulldogs weren’t the only top-rated hoops squad in the area this year, as the Wolsey-Wessington Lady Warbirds entered the girls’ Class B State Tournament, held in Huron, as the top seed. The Lady ‘Birds would lose a tough 76-72 game to Wall in the semifinals before rebounding with a 60-55 victory over Ethan in the third-place game.

The Lady Warbirds found success on another court as well, as they followed up a third-place finish in the state volleyball tournament with a return visit in 2023, despite losing a very strong senior class from the previous year’s club. Wolsey-Wessington finished sixth in the state tournament this past November.

They were joined at state volleyball by the Miller Rustlers, who won their opening round game but then dropped their next two to end up bringing home fourth place in Class A.

While multiple area athletes excelled at the State Track meets in May, The Wolsey-Wessington medley relay team won a title in Class B, and Warbird runner Caleb Richmond took the tape in the 800-meter run. Jeffrey Boschee of Sanborn Central/Woonsocket soared to a high jump title in Class A.

Brady Riseter of Redfield and Kellan Hurd of Miller/Highmore-Harrold each claimed state wrestling titles in February.

Two young women really took the focus for individual champions in the Heartland, however.

In March, Kenedee Rowen participated in national powerlifting championships, coming in third in her weight class despite battling mono. She was already a two-time South Dakota state champion. Rowen was a student at Wolsey-Wessington until transferring to Huron for her senior year. She graduated with 22 state records across two weight classes before signing on to lift with Midland University in Nebraska, one of the top powerlifting schools in the country.

In June, Bryn Huber capped off an impressive senior season of athletics that saw her set the single-season school record for digs in volleyball with a berth at the state AA golf tourney. After finishing third in 2022, Huber was among those expected to compete for the top spot, but a rough start to the season likely would have put her pretty low in the betting odds.

She was third after the first day, but then had the best score of her high school career on the second day of the tournament to tie her for the championship in regulation play. She would go to a playoff hole, winning with a birdie, the first ever Huron Tiger female golfer to win a state title. She would go on to win the South Dakota Golf Association junior championship in July before beginning her collegiate golf career at the University of Sioux Falls.


Courtesy photo - Fire completely consumed the longtime Huron business Hurd Alignment and Machine Shop in early September.

Leadership lost
When an area has a long period of stability in local leadership, it’s common that leadership will change over time. This year, that began to happen across the Heartland as long-time political leaders announced that they would not seek re-election, a long-serving law enforcement official announced his resignation, and two long-serving public servants in the region passed away.

Paul Aylward, who was Huron’s mayor for two terms, leading the city through the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic before his term ended, passed away in January. He spent much of his life in a public service role, representing union workers in the state for many years as a lobbyist and also on multiple municipal boards.

In February, long-time Huron City Commissioner Mark Robish announced that he would not seek re-election for his seat on the board, indicating that it was “time for someone else to have the chance to learn just what I did.” Two filed for the seat, with Shawn Harvey winning the spot on the commission in an April city election.

A few weeks after Robish’s announcement, Larry Mattke passed away. Mattke had served 20 years on the Beadle County Commission before opting not to seek re-election in 2022. He was also a member of the South Dakota 4-H Hall of Fame due to his volunteering for that organization.

Huron Police Chief Kevin Van Diepen announced in July his intent to retire from the department after a 35-year career. The official retirement date is April 2024, and the city has hired Van Diepen’s successor in Derek Layher.

Finally, this fall, both District 22 Representatives, Roger Chase and Lynn Schneider, stated that they will not seek another trip to Pierre. Chase is serving his final term in the House, but he could have taken the opportunity to run for Senate, instead choosing to end his time of service after the 2024 legislative session. Schneider filled out the remainder of Bob Glanzer’s term after Glanzer’s passing in 2020 and then was elected twice to serve in Pierre.

Interestingly, after leaving the police department, Van Diepen has announced his intent to run for one of the two District 22 House seats, and multiple long-time community leaders have also announced an intent to run for the spots, indicating that District 22 will still have a strong voice in Pierre, even after Chase and Schneider leave office.


Benjamin Chase/Plainsman file photo - A long procession of first responders carried firefighter Josh Kogel of Cavour to his final resting place, after he passed away while fighting the Hurd Alignment fire on Sept. 4.

Unfortunate news
Because some of the big stories that were reported by state and national news were negative, that could skew some ideas of how the year truly went in the Heartland area, though it helps to have the whole story.

In January, a viral video sparked off plenty of controversy in the state and nation - about fish. The week of sub-zero temps in mid-December put an abnormally thick frost on many bodies of water in the area, which led to the death of numerous fish in those bodies of water. Already-dead fish then flowed down the James River and created a gruesome site on the rocks of the 3rd Street Dam.

While the situation raised questions about how the fish got there that were answered by South Dakota Game Fish & Parks, controversy that the newly-reconstructed dam had contributed to the death of the fish was prevalent on multiple social media outlets. When spring thaw revealed high levels of fish death within many of the state’s lakes over the winter, the media and social media coverage was not nearly as prominent.

In March, Banner Engineering, a fixture in north Huron for 25 years, announced its intentions to close its Huron plant, meaning the end of more than 160 jobs in the area. While the jobs won’t be replaced directly, the former Banner building will be utilized by Southern Sun, LLC to prepare and package sunflower seeds.

On Labor Day, fire erupted at Hurd Alignment on Old Highway 14. The fire destroyed the business, and while assisting with fighting the blaze, Cavour fire chief Josh Kogel had a medical emergency and passed away. The funeral for Kogel was on Sept. 12, drawing state and national fire agencies to attend in a long processional from the Nordby Exhibit Hall to Iroquois, where he was laid to rest.

From all of us at the Plainsman, have a safe and happy New Year!