Saturday, November 5, 2011

Former South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow at "end of the trail"

Former South Dakota Governor Bill Janklow announced yesterday that he has terminal brain cancer and not long to live. You can read the full story at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

Through my job at South Dakota Tourism and Economic Development I worked under Bill for eight years, plus a summer as an intern. He called me "Buddy" as he did lots of people that he didn't see often enough to remember their names. That was fine with me. He insisted I call him Bill, not Governor.

I'll remember him as a stubborn, sometimes obnoxious, leader who had a tendency to ignore some rules but got things done in what he thought was the best way for the state.

One of my favorite Janklow stories involves former co-worker Mark Kayser and I headed for the "Governor's Winter Games" at Lake Poinsett near Arlington. Bill called from his home in Brandon to say he would meet us at the event if we would bring his snowmobile trailer from the Governor's Mansion in Pierre.

As we hooked up to the trailer that morning we noticed that it did not have a license plate. We shrugged our shoulders and said, "That's Bill."

Later as Mark drove us through the town of Miller I noticed a pickup truck coming from a side street at a speed that didn't seem safe on snowy streets. I said, "I don't think that guy is going to be able to stop." Sure enough he slid right through the stop sign and t-boned the snowmobile trailer. As Mark pulled over to the curb with a few muttered obscenities I looked back and reported, "The sleds are gone." I couldn't see them anywhere.

The truck sat crumpled in the middle of the intersection, steam pouring from it's radiator. I don't remember the exact details, but the driver had a suspended driver's license already and I think the truck was borrowed from his brother. I'm sure the news that the snowmobiles he just hit belonged to the governor really brightened his day.

The snowmobiles had flown off the trailer, rolled over a few times and were laying on their sides in the Miller High School parking lot with broken windshields and lots of scrapes.

We dragged the remains of the trailer into a nearby auto body shop where the repairmen was able to pound and weld it back into road-worthy shape. In the process the local police officer handling the accident came by to fill out his report. He looked at the trailer and said, "Does Bill have a license plate on this thing?" Mark and I looked at each other and shrugged, "Must have fallen off in the wreck..."

Mark had the unpleasant task of calling the governor to explain why were going to be late and what had happened. When we got there Bill took a look at things, shrugged his shoulders, hooked the trailer up to his truck and we never heard another word about it.

I'm sure there will be lots of Janklow reminiscing in the near future. As I hear other people's stories I'm sure it will trigger more of my own. I'll never forget his ability to give speeches without any preparation or notes. I saw him unexpectedly run into a group of FFA students in the capitol one evening and give them an impromptu 20-minute lecture on the importance of education.

He is quite a guy and one that will be missed for a long, long time.

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