Monthly Archives: September 2017

Accounting firm says Westerhuis gym came from mother’s help

On Sept. 12, 2017, the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee’s leaders — Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, and Rep. Jean Hunhoff, R-Yankton — sent a letter to the accounting firm that previously conducted annual audits of Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.

The Peters-Hunhoff letter asked:

“In your response to Committee questions dated August 17, 2017 you indicated that the gym constructed at Mr. Westerhuis’ home was discussed with management of the Mid Central Educational Cooperative. Can you provide more details on what was discussed and the answers that you received from management? “

The letter went to Randy Schoenfish of Parkston. He is the father of state Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, R-Scotland, who was part of a team of accountants who conducted the past audits of Mid Central.

The Sept. 22 reply, unsigned, from Schoenfish and Co. said the firm’s typical practice is to drive past the key financial person’s residence or farm. The reply said Scott Westerhuis indicated his mother was helping him financially. You can read the full reply here.

Scott Westerhuis was business manager at Mid Central. He allegedly killed his wife, Nicole, and their four children, then lit their house afire and killed himself. The slayings occurred in the early hours of Sept. 17, 2015.

State Education Secretary Melody Schopp had called Mid Central director Dan Guericke on Sept. 16, 2015, to notify him the South Dakota Department of Education would be terminating its contract.

Mid Central managed the federal GEAR UP program as a contractor for the state department. Nicole Westerhuis was an assistant business manager at Mid Central.

While their house burned to the ground, a two-story metal building next door didn’t catch fire. It contained many pieces of physical training equipment. A swimming pool that was under construction didn’t burn either.

The legislators’ question was about the metal building.

GEAR UP was intended to help middle school and high school students from lower-income households be aware of educational opportunities available after high school graduation. Mid Central primarily focused on schools with high populations of American indians.

Guericke, GEAR UP manager Stacy Phelps and Stephanie Hubers now face state criminal charges for various roles involving Mid Central.

Black Hills State University eventually was chosen to replace Mid Central as GEAR UP manager. Mid Central closed June 30.

The legislative committee meets Oct. 5-6 in Sioux Falls. GEAR UP is one of the agenda items.

Rick Melmer answers GOAC

Former state Education Secretary Rick Melmer has sent a two-page letter to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

In it, Melmer acknowledges his role in the first grant received by South Dakota for the federal GEAR UP program.

He said in the letter he wasn’t part of the second grant that Mid Central Educational Cooperative sought.

He goes on to acknowledge he was part of a GEAR UP advisory panel that Mid Central’s then-director Dan Guericke assembled.

Melmer said Guericke invited him to be on the advisory panel.

GEAR UP recently began its final year of operation in South Dakota. The program was managed by Mid Central during the second grant until September 2015. Black Hills State University has run it since then.

GEAR UP is intended to assist lower-income students from middle schools and high schools be aware of education opportunities that are available after they graduate high school.

Legislators on the operations and audit panel are scheduled to discuss GEAR UP and Mid Central during their Oct. 5-6 meeting in Sioux Falls at Carnegie Town Hall.

The committee also sent a letter to Keith Moore, who was Indian education director for the state Department of Education under Melmer and later Tom Oster. Moore hasn’t responded yet.

LuAnn Werdel and Roger Campbell, who followed Moore as Indian education director, also were sent letters. They haven’t responded yet.

Emails provided to the legislators indicated that Werdel and Campbell alerted Melody Schopp to problems in the GEAR UP program.

Schopp was deputy secretary for the state Department of Education when Werdel told Schopp and Oster.

Schopp dismissed Werdel on the day in 2011 when new Gov. Dennis Daugaard appointed Schopp as secretary to replace Oster.

Campbell replaced Werdel and later left after friction between Campbell and Mid Central officials.

Legislative auditors determined more than $1 million couldn’t be accounted in Mid Central bank account. The cooperative at Platte closed June 30.

Is the obligation recovery center succeeding?

The answer seems to be yes, based on a report delivered this week to the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee.

The Legislature created the center in 2015 at the request of Gov. Dennis Daugaard and despite strong objections from private collection agencies. Lawmakers approved HB 1228 after several attempts.

The four-page report, required by the 2015 law, from Commissioner of Administration Scott Bollinger shows the center’s operations returned a substantial amount of money to state government in the first year.

Regents look at high-school matriculation

State government’s Board of Regents received a report Tuesday evening that shows approximately one-third of high school graduates chose to attend a public university in South Dakota.

The report covers five years through the 2014-15 academic year.

If you read to the end, you’ll find a hint about where the regents’ executive staff suggest the public universities look to further recruit.

According to the report, 10 percent of the high school students who didn’t pursue post-secondary education scored an 18 or higher on their pre-graduation ACTs.

The regents, who govern South Dakota’s six traditional universities and three university centers, meet Oct. 3-5 at Dakota State University in Madison.

They also will look at a related report that charts trends from fall 2010 through fall 2017. This report considers residents, non-residents, students who are on-campus and who are Internet-based, and high-school students who are dual-enrolled.


Two men sentenced for meth involvements

U.S. District Judge Roberto Lange sentenced two men last week for their roles in distribution of methamphetamine.

On Sept. 18, the federal judge sentenced Corey Ryan DeHorse, 24, of Eagle Butte to eight months in custody, followed by three years of supervised release, and a $1,000 fine.

DeHorse admitted that he sold a substance with a detectable amount of meth to another person for $100 on Aug. 5, 2016.

On Sept. 19, the federal judge sentenced Louis Anthony Good Shield, 38, of White River to 18 months in custody, followed by four years of supervised release, and a $1,000 fine.

Good Shield admitted he conspired with others between Jan. 1, 2013, and Sept. 17, 2015, to distribute methamphetamine. His role was to travel with others during the transportation and provide the ‘muscle,’ according to the U.S. Attorney office for South Dakota.

For public colleges, a ‘held their own’ report?

State government’s Board of Regents, whose members oversee South Dakota’s six traditional university campuses and three university centers, released the fall enrollment report yesterday.

The universities didn’t have much to show, in either direction. The glass, as some might say, was both half-full and half-empty.

That might be a sign of success. Here’s why.

South Dakota schools said they graduated 9,320 students in spring 2017, according to the schools’ statewide report card was issued Tuesday.

For 2016, graduates totaled 9,088. For 2015, the number was 9,298. In 2014, it was 9,385. And 2013 was 9,495. (For 2012, the percentage was 81.50 but the number of graduates wasn’t immediately clear.)

So high school graduation has been relatively flat in recent years — and the regents’ piece of that pie has been relatively flat, too, in recent years.

One step the regents decided to take, at their August retreat, was to start notifying high school students whose Smarter Balanced assessment scores were high enough. The notices will tell students that they automatically qualify for enrollment in South Dakota’s public universities and public technical institutes.

Paul Turman, one of the vice presidents for the regents’ central office in Pierre, explained that move Monday to state government’s Board of Education Standards, whose members oversee the rules for South Dakota’s K-12 public schools.

The test of the new strategy now comes in the next few years for the regents and the public universities, and for the tech schools and state government’s new Board of Technical Education.

Aeronautics panel considers six projects

The South Dakota Aeronautics Commission is scheduled next week to discuss six proposals for improving public airports. They are:

Martin $316,666.67 for an airport master plan;

Pierre $888,888.89 for a boarding bridge;

Redfield $3,920,000 for runway construction;

Rosebud $228,000 for snow removal equipment;

Sisseton $170,000 for runway reconstruction design; and

Watertown $895,000 for construction of hangar taxilane expansion including design.

The meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 26, at 1 p.m. CT at the Becker-Hansen Building, 700 E. Broadway, Pierre. The agenda including a call-in number and other materials are at

Correction on Ben Reifel post

I received this response today from the South Dakota Art Museum at Brookings:

Ben Reifel did not start the Museum’s collection of American Indian Art.
Actually he never donated any of his collection. He had a number of objects on long term loan. After his death we worked with his daughter Lloyce Reifel Anderson to convert some of them to acquisitions back in 2004. At that time we accepted 18 objects..

His reputation and presence on the board was a notable accomplishment for the Museum.
Thank you for celebrating the life of Ben Reifel he was a great man.


Lynn Verschoor, Director
South Dakota Art Museum

(Note: The below post has been corrected.)

The desk of Ben Reifel

South Dakota State University in Brookings has the office desk of former U.S. Rep. Ben Reifel, the first and only Indian American — his words — to serve South Dakota in Congress. Reifel donated the desk to his alma mater upon his 1971 retirement after spending 10 years as the state’s First District representative. Shown at the desk at the SDSU alumni center are Andi Fouberg, the current alumni director, and Keith Jensen, who was alumni director when Reifel made the donation. Gov. Dennis Daugaard proclaimed Tuesday, Sept. 19, as Ben Reifel (Lone Feather) Day in South Dakota. Reifel was born Sept. 19, 1906, at Cut Meat (now called Parmelee) on the Rosebud Indian reservation.

The political career of Ben Reifel

Today is Sept. 19. By governor’s proclamation, it is Ben Reifel Day in South Dakota. He was born on this day in 1906.

The Republican was the first Lakota to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was the first American Indian elected from South Dakota after winning the state’s First District seat in the 1960 general election.

Reifel retired from the U.S. House rather than seek re-election in 1970. He died Jan. 2, 1990, of cancer in Sioux Falls.

Here is the story of how the long-time federal Bureau of Indian Affairs official came to be a candidate for elected office in 1960.

Republican Karl Mundt moved from the U.S. House seat to the U.S. Senate in the 1948 general election. Republican Harold Lovre of Watertown won the U.S. House seat. Lovre faced the same Democratic opponent, Merton Tice, as Mundt had in 1946. Tice lost for the second time in a row.

Lovre ran for re-election in 1950, 1952 and 1954. The Democratic candidates who lost in each race were Tice who ran a third time in 1950, then Goldie Wells and Francis Dunn. In 1956, Democratic candidate George McGovern took out Lovre 116,516 to 105,835.

McGovern beat his Republican challenger, Joe Foss, a sitting governor, in the 1958 general election. Meanwhile South Dakota voters also elected a Democrat, Ralph Herseth, as governor. Herseth had lost in 1956 to Foss for governor when Foss sought re-election. (State officials held two-year terms until voters amended the South Dakota Constitution to four-year terms in 1972.)

Herseth ran again in 1958 for governor and this time beat Republican Phil Saunders 132,761 to 125,520. In 1960, McGovern ran for the U.S. Senate against Mundt, the Republican incumbent. The Republicans and the Democrats had primary elections June 7, 1960, for the House seat that McGovern would vacate.

Ben Reifel won the Republican nomination. He received 29,287 votes, followed by Dan Stuelpnagel with 15,788 and Raymond Dana 9,084. Democratic voters nominated Ray Fitzgerald 16,409 to 12,175 for Robert Chamberlain.

The general election Nov. 8, 1960, saw Reifel roll past Fitzgerald 126,033 to 103,755. South Dakota voters – at least those in the First District – had elected the state’s first American Indian to Congress.

Meanwhile Mundt turned aside McGovern for the U.S. Senate 160,181 to 145,261. Herseth also lost his bid for re-election as governor. Republican Archie Gubbrud slipped past the Democratic incumbent 154,530 to 150,095.

The death of U.S. Sen. Francis Case, a Republican, on June 22, 1962, set off a scramble. Case was up for re-election. Republicans voters had already nominated Case in the June 5 primary against A.C. Miller, the Republican attorney general, choosing Case 57,583 to 11,414.

Gov. Gubbrud was responsible to choose Case’s replacement. Gubbrud offered the seat to Foss the day after Case died. Foss was under contract as the American Football League’s new commissioner. Foss wanted a day to check with his employer. When Foss called Gubbrud on June 24, Gubbrud had changed his mind.

Gubbrud instead turned the decision over to a convention of South Dakota Republican delegates. Seven candidates, including Reifel and Foss, made known their desires for the Senate seat. The Republican delegates chose Lt. Gov. Joseph Bottum to fill the remainder of Case’s term.

Foss put his delegates behind Bottum, then legislator Nils Boe did too. Their people helped to help push Bottum across the line on the twentieth ballot. One week later, Republican state-convention delegates rewarded Boe with the nomination for lieutenant governor, replacing Bottum. Two years later, Boe won election as the Republican nominee for governor.

Bottum meanwhile lost the Nov. 6, 1962, general election to McGovern, after a statewide recount that Bottum conceded Dec. 4, 1962.

Reifel had also proceeded back to the 1962 campaign for re-election to the First District seat in the U.S. House. Reifel defeated Democratic challenger Ralph Nauman 113,975 to 78,421.

Gubbrud’s handling of the Case vacancy didn’t seem to hurt his re-election campaign for governor. Facing Herseth for the second time – and Herseth’s fourth consecutive candidacy as the Democratic nominee – Gubbrud won 144,682 to 112,438. Gubbrud had fallen about 10,000 votes from his 1960 number, but Herseth dropped by more than three times that many, about 38,000, from Herseth’s 1960 total.

In 1964 Congressman Reifel won re-election a second time, defeating Democratic challenger George May 124,791 to 92,057. Reifel won again in 1966, doubling down against Democratic candidate Francis Richter in a low-turnout contest 80,592 to 40,236. Reifel won re-election for the fourth and final time in 1968. He beat Democratic challenger Frank Denholm 85,232 to 61,738.

Reifel decided he wouldn’t run again in 1970. That opened the way for a five-candidate Republican primary won by Dexter Gunderson. Waiting was the Democratic nominee, Denholm, who didn’t have a primary. Denholm defeated Gunderson 71,636 to 56,330.

Denholm won re-election to the First District seat in 1972. Republicans had a three-candidate primary in 1974, won by Larry Pressler. That November, Pressler defeated Denholm 78,266 to 63,339.

Ben Reifel meanwhile accepted some federal appointments from President Richard Nixon and, after Nixon’s resignation, from President Gerald Ford. Reifel finished his career as acting commissioner for the Bureau of Indian Affairs during the final two months of the Ford administration at the end of 1976.

Reifel became a trustee for the South Dakota Art Museum in Brookings in 1977. He had lived seven years in Brookings as a young man, moving from the Rosebud reservation in 1925. He had graduated eighth grade in 1922 at the age of 16 and then worked three years on the family’s farm before setting out east.

He took his high school classes through a vocational program in Brookings and earned a bachelor degree from South Dakota State College there in 1932. When he returned in 1977 to the art museum’s board, Reifel made long-term loans to the museum’s collection of American Indian works from his personal holdings. In 2004 the museum acquired 18 of the items. He was trustees president in 1982 and 1983.

Correction: This post originally said he started the museum’s American Indian collection through donations from his personal holdings.