Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pride on the Prairie

This summer I had the good fortune to attend a couple events honoring family members in South Dakota.

The first was the Miss Teen of South Dakota Pageant in which our grand-niece, MeKayla Pravecek, participated. Around 200 teen girls applied to the pageant and about 50 were selected to participate in the pageant which is based on scholastic achievement and community service. Although it is not a beauty pageant, it does have the ballgown glamour on the final day which all the girls relished so that made it fun for them. They had to also go through several events during the weekend including a personal interview where they were evaluated on their personal poise and their ability to think on their feet. MeKayla was one of the six finalists. We are so proud of her. She is a remarkable young woman and has a bright future ahead of her.

MeKayla, a finalist Miss Teen of South Dakota, with Miss Teen of Missouri
The second big event was the induction of our brother-in-law, Bill Hinks, into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Fourteen inductees were chosen from 53 nominees. Bill's business success and philanthropy assured him a place in the SD Hall of Fame.

He started a small furniture business in 1977 and grew it to be one of America's top 100 furniture retailers today. His company, Furniture Outlets USA, employs over 700 people in more than 35 regional retail stores. A number of years ago, he bought a dying mall in Sioux Falls, SD and turned it into a vibrant retail center. Over the years he has generously supported numerous children's charities, he donated land for Legacy Park in Sioux Falls and has contributed to various needs at Augustana College. His love of sports has made him a long time supporter of local sports teams as well as the Minnesota Timberwolves. Last year, he received an honorary degree from South Dakota State at Brookings.

Bill is a distinguished leader in South Dakota and was recognized for his many contributions to the community over the years. We are so proud of Bill! It was an honor to share his special day of recognition which he so richly deserves.
Bill with his wife Carolyn (Mark's sister)
Bill, one of 14 inductees for 2011, giving his acceptance speech
at the South Dakota Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet
South Dakota is 'Dances With Wolves' Country
When I went to South Dakota for these two summer events, I drove great distances through the prairie. If you've never really been in the high prairie, you owe it to yourself to experience it. I mean off the interstate, actually in the prairie. Once I got off the Interstate and traveled on state highways, the traffic lessened and there were times of up to 30 minutes when I didn't see another car on the highway. In this day and age, it was an almost eerie feeling. If you saw the movie, Dances with Wolves, you saw the South Dakota prairie I'm speaking of since it was filmed in the Pierre area.

I know some people will say that there is 'nothing' there but if you open your eyes and heart you will see the great expanse of prairie that many of our forefathers traveled across in order to settle the United States. It gives you a sense of what they felt and how wonderful and terrible that journey must have been in that vastness. It was so awe inspiring with the huge sky and endless hills of grass, I pulled my car over and stepped outside. The grasses were bending in the wind  which as I listened sounded musical to my ears - musical to me because I was in a modern car and not a covered wagon where the wind would be relentless.

There are buffalo in many places on the prairie so when you have the delight of seeing that too, it conjures up all sorts of thoughts. I took some pictures that won't do justice to the place or the moment but I have to share what I captured that day.
A snapshot of the prairie...the big sky and endless land
And just me on the prairie highway

For those of you born in the eastern US, this will look empty because you don't have the eyes of one prairie-born. Just as when I travel the interstates in the east that are ribbons cut through the trees, I always find myself wanting to see more - more sky, more land, less trees! It's what we are used to. I have learned to love the abundant trees of the east but still have the prairie's beauty in my eyes. It is subtle so you have to get quiet to appreciate it but boy is it magnificent.

If you haven't been to Mount Rushmore in the  Black Hills of western South Dakota, you owe it to  yourself to visit. Put it on your list of places to see and make it a vacation destination soon. When you do, make sure you also see the badlands and adventure out onto the prairie so you can experience the vastness personally. It is worth the time and trouble.

For those of you intrigued, there are a couple books about prairie life that I heartily recommend,
Dakota: a spiritual geography [Book]Dakota -  A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris; and

My Antonia by Willa Cather  My Ántonia [Book]

will give you a peek into the soul of the prairie and its inhabitants. This country is not for the faint hearted as you will learn. But the quiet beauty will take your breath away if you are only still.


Janet said...

I agree about the open prairie. Something so peaceful about it, but also think of the pioneers crossing the country. I just got back from Winner and love the drive south of Presho. Thanks for the book suggestion. I read My Antonia a long time ago.

Sandi said...

Lovely tribute to our South Dakota roots. I'm glad I still appreciate a lot of 'nothing' as I travel east to South Dakota or Nebraska. As a tribute to Mom and Dad, I observe the crops along the way and know that they would be doing the same thing.