Find the biographies of both inductees – 2010 Dale Clement and 1999 John Vucurevich.
One can only imagine what it must have sounded like when good friends John T. Vucurevich and Dale Clement took one of their frequent road trips across the Great Plains and something would tickle their funny bones.
Vucurevich, the late banking magnate from Rapid City, and his good friend and confidant Clement would take long car rides through South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin to make personal checks on some of the dozens of banks that Vucurevich owned during the 1970s and 80s.
“He had a great sense of humor, and his laugh … it sounded like a horse,” Clement said of Vucurevich.
In one of many light moments in an hour-long chat during the latest installment of the Morning Fill Up series at The Garage meeting space in Rapid City, Clement, 83, had to admit that his own style of laughter — a hearty sort of cackling rat-a-tat-tat that comes easy and often — might just rival Vucurevich’s for decibel level and uniqueness.
“He had a great sense of humor,” Clement said of Vucurevich, who he said was “like a father” to him.
“I still miss him.”
Clement, a Missouri native who has lived in Rapid City for 27 years, serves as board chair of the John T. Vucurevich Foundation, which has given out about $40 million in grants to health care, education and arts organizations in the Black Hills region since its inception 11 years ago. Clement had his own stellar career in finance, serving 22 years as dean of the Business School at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion before moving to Rapid City, where he was a senior vice president for Black Hills Corp. for eight years before retiring.
Based on their 40-year friendship, Clement is in a unique position to share background and stories about Vucurevich, who once owned about 65 banks and whose local gifts included buildings or major support for the United Way, the YMCA, the Cornerstone Rescue Mission, and the John T. Vucurevich Cancer Care Institute at Regional Hospital.
He shared some well-known history of Vucurevich: That he was an immigrant from Yugoslavia; that he grew up mainly in Lead, where his dad worked at the Homestake Gold Mine; and that he he was a humble man who eschewed attention even as he gave away millions.
But Clement also provided more intimate insights into Vucurevich. He said Vucurevich was superb at spotting wise investments in banking and real estate, but was not adept or very interested in managing systems or people.
He pointed out that Vucurevich had dropped out of high school to go to work, but that even without a degree he was well-read and had “one of the sharpest minds I’ve ever seen,” particularly in assessing the value of land or a business enterprise.
Clement told how Vucurevich’s generosity began long before his foundation was created, buying many meals at the Millstone restaurant for police and fire officers and once even an entire high school football team. “When he’d read in the paper about families in trouble, he’d send them a check anonymously,” Clement said.
Clement noted that Vucurevich was musically inclined, playing the violin, and that he loved to host elaborate parties even if he himself sat alone at a rear table, enjoying the festivities yet not participating because of his innate shyness.
He shared how Vucurevich used to jokingly refer to himself as “a sheep herder from Rapid City,” and that he had a fondness for children, often speaking to them as adults to show them respect and affection.
Clement said Vucurevich spent most of his banking career in debt, but also paid all his bills and was fully solvent by the end of his career.
He recalled how Vucurevich sold his car to raise money to buy his first bank in Hill City, but then was given a car by a supporter. Years later, Clement said, Vucurevich looked up the family of the person who gave him the car and sent them a check in appreciation.
Finally, Clement shared how Vucurevich wisely set up his foundation to provide community support long after his death in 2005 at age 92.
The foundation, Clement said, gave about $5 million in gifts both large and small last year, and pursues a simple goal of improving life for all residents of the Black Hills, particularly those in need.
“You can’t change society around,” Clement said, “but you can take little bits and make it better.”
The mission of the South Dakota Hall of Fame is to champion a culture of excellence in South Dakota, and the 2016 inductees represent Champions for Excellence in such areas as a national beekeeping business, mathematically formed artworks, national journalism and regional public service volunteerism in utilities and healthcare.
Since 1974, over 700 South Dakotans have become members of the South Dakota Hall of Fame. At this time, 222 are living with the achievements of all inductees continuing to impact our state. Their accomplishments reach beyond South Dakota in representing and building the future for this great State.
More information is available at sdexcellence.org.