Read J. Bruce’s South Dakota Hall of Fame Biography at this Link on the Champions for Excellence Network.
Remembering ‘The Marker Man’
Most of us will have one marker that memorializes us at the end of life.
J. Bruce Blake, who died Feb. 15 at age 85, has nearly 200 markers across Minnehaha County that will live on in his memory.
Blake, a lawyer, was the force behind the county’s historical marker program. A consummate historian and two-term president of the Minnehaha County Historical Society, he set out to find a way to permanently share the area’s history with the public.
It started when he came across an old historic marker at Sherman Park more than 25 years ago. It sparked an idea that led to the placement of more than 162 additional markers in Minnehaha County.
“For people with a curiosity of local history, these markers fulfill their needs and maybe encourage them to look into other topics on their own,” Blake told the Argus Leader in 2014. “If they encounter something they don’t know, maybe they’ll want to look deeper.”
He saw the markers through from conception to placement, including writing the text, contacting a foundry to cast the marker, raising the money for it and holding a dedication ceremony.
In 2014, Blake estimated he had raised between $350,000 and $400,000 for markers since starting the effort in the late 1980s.
He thought of most of the places, people and events that warranted markers.
“It’s something that triggers my imagination, something that’s out of the ordinary that might appeal to others. Something not presented before,” Blake said in 2014.
Blake was born in Wisconsin and graduated from Washington High School in Sioux Falls. He practiced family and bankruptcy law for nearly 40 years.
He also authored the 550-page book “Twelve Thousand Years of Human History: As Recorded on Historical Markers in Minnehaha County, S.D.,” which chronicles his work, compiling more than 250 official and unofficial markers along with their map stories, maps, drawings and photographs.
Blake received 14 awards for his commitment to historic preservation and was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame.