Acts of Excellence Celebration Recap

On Thursday, January 18 in the State Capitol Rotunda, we gathered for an Acts of Excellence Celebration. We recognized eight recipients who represent everyday acts of excellence through their trials, tribulations, and perseverance. These recipients embody our mission of Championing a Culture of Excellence: One Act at a Time, and we are honored to acknowledge their outstanding acts of excellence.

Learn more about each recipient in the video clips below.

South Dakota Historical Press Society

Established in 1997, the South Dakota Historical Society Press has a mission to publish books that educate people on the rich history of South Dakota and the surrounding region. The Press is part of the South Dakota State Historical Society. For 20 years now, the Press has been encouraging authors whose work touches on the culture and heritage of the state and has been producing books that give readers new insights into the people and the places in South Dakota.

Native Hope

Giving Native American Youth a Voice

Children are the future, and hope is the foundation of real change, says Native Hope, a Chamberlain based, non-profit group whose mission is to empower young Native Americans by funding programs that “provide education, protect at-risk young and honor cultural heritage.”

Mansour Karim

Showing Gratitude in Giving

Mansour Karim has become one of the most generous donors in the central South Dakota area. In 2011, he was honored as Pierre’s Philanthropist of the Year. By that time, he had already given away more than $1.5 million. His son, Jafar, told the Pierre Capital Journal in 2014 that the generous gifts should not be considered surprising “in light of what this country and this community have made possible for him.

A Mission to Save Lifes

Nicole Neugebauer of Armour, the state’s 2015 EMT of the Year, said her goal was simply to improve the health of South Dakotans. One way to do that is to train young people in cardiopulmonary resuscitation. She has trained as many as 200 Douglas  County students over the past three years and has been the driving force behind a new law that requires every school in South Dakota to offer the training.

Houck Ranch

Brings Buffalo to the South Dakota Prairie

Roy and Nellie Houck operated a cattle ranch in Stanley County until 1959, when they purchased their first buffalo. From that modest start, the couple built Triple U Enterprises into one of South Dakota’s first, and one of the world’s largest, private buffalo ranches.

Fort Pierre

200th Birthday a Community-wide Affair

Planning and carrying out a 200th birthday party for South Dakota’s oldest organized town was a communitywide effort for the people of Fort Pierre as they celebrated their bicentennial in 2017 with concerts, rodeos, parades and historical presentations. The bicentennial was two years in the planning and months in preparation.

Historic West River Trail Preservation

Early settlers traveling through South Dakota from the Missouri River west to the Black Hills followed one or another of several old trails. In the 1970s, a Stanley County ranch couple determined that the old trails should not be lost to history, Roy and Edith Norman created signs that marked the various trails taken by Indian tribes, military units and west-bound settlers. The signs have recently been restored by the Second Century Development Corporation of Midland. The signs will now continue to keep history alive for any traveler willing to leave the main highways and follow the travel signs.

Jerry Wattier

Honoring Veterans

The Pierre Elks Lodge began an effort some years ago to work with our veteran facilities. What began as a program that delivered $700 of personal care items collected by the Pierre Elks to the State Veterans Home & Hospital, as well as the VA Medical Center, both in Hot Springs, has expanded its effort. In 2013 the project, led by Jerry Wattier, delivered $19,000 in cash and personal care items directly to the veterans in those facilities.

Do you know an individual or group deserving of recognition for their Acts of Excellence? Nominate them today here.

Watertown native recognized for her big heart

Watertown Public Opinion


Presentation College alum Katie Tuff talks about the heart transplant she had in April during a ceremony in which she donated her old heart, which is wrapped in the jar in the foreground, to the anatomy lab at the college. (Dakota Media Group photo by John Davis)

Katie Tuff, of Sioux Falls and originally from Watertown, has been recognized by the South Dakota Hall of Fame for its Act of Excellence (AOE) program.

The AOE is a way to recognize and share everyday stories about excellence. These real stories can inspire and influence the pursuit of excellence throughout South Dakota.

Tuff is being recognized for donating her heart to Presentation College in Aberdeen. Tuff, age 30, was diagnosed with stage IV kidney cancer at age 6. She eventually went on to graduate from Presentation College with a nursing degree and had been working in the Brain and Spine Institute at Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.

Tuff’s heart issues began in 2009 as a result of chemotherapy and radiation treatments she encountered fighting cancer as a child. She was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. She took medications following the diagnosis but they stopped working, which is when she found out she needed a new heart.

Tuff was then diagnosed with a restrictive cardiomyopathy, the rarest form of cardiomyopathy — a condition in which the walls of the lower chambers of the heart are abnormally rigid and lack the flexibility to expand as the ventricles fill with blood.

Tuff then received a heart transplant and was in the hospital for three months. She decided to donate her heart because she “always tries to find something good out of the bad things that happen.”

The heart was eventually wrapped up and rubber-banded in a jar of preservative and had been with her family since it was removed.

Trisha Waldman, Associated Dean at Presentation, removed Tuff’s heart from the jar and handed it to Tuff, who then posed for pictures with her heart before officially delivering it to the college.

Tuff is going to try to go back to work before the predicted year of recovery is up.

Mary Olinger submitted the Act of Excellence to the South Dakota Hall of Fame for Tuff.


We invite you to join us on Thursday, January 18 in the State Capitol Rotunda for an Acts of Excellence Celebration. We will recognize eight recipients who represent everyday acts of excellence through their trials, tribulations, and perseverance. These recipients embody our mission of Championing a Culture of Excellence: One Act at a Time, and we are honored to acknowledge their outstanding acts of excellence.

Location: State Capitol Rotunda, 500 E. Capitol Avenue, Pierre

When: January 18, 12:15 pm program

Recipients (click on each title below for additional information):

  1. A Mission to Save Lives
  2. Ft. Pierre 200th
  3. Historical Society Press Preserves, Promotes State’s Heritage
  4. In Honor of Veterans, the Leadership of Jerry Wattier
  5. Keeping Historic West River Trails Alive
  6. Mansour Karim Gratitude in Giving
  7. Native Hope Mission: A Voice to Young Native Americans
  8. Houck Ranch Brings Buffalo to the South Dakota Prairie


Do you know an individual or group deserving of recognition for their Acts of Excellence? Nominate them today here.




Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary Act of Excellence

Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary

In a time of heated conversations in a noisy world, a Black Hills couple has created a sanctuary where visitors can escape the contentious world and simply take in the natural landscape of the Black Hills. Dave and Jan Snyder established Pathways Spiritual Sanctuary, a serene spot on 80 acres of aspen trees, murmuring brooks and pastoral meadows. It’s a place where people can reconnect with nature and find time to quietly reflect on the world and their place in it. The mission statement of Pathways says the purpose is” To create a quiet, safe, sacred place open to the public where people can spend time walking, sitting, contemplating, reading, writing, reflecting or healing in the natural landscape of the sacred Black Hills, and to preserve and maintain this space for all who visit, without regard to their beliefs, race, religion, culture, personal history or life experiences.’’

Strider – a bike without pedals Act of Excellence

Strider Bikes, CEO Ryan McFarland and his parents Joe & Sandra 

Balance and steering are the most difficult things to learn about riding a bicycle, Ryan McFarland of Rapid City believes. That’s why, when his son was about to learn to ride a bike, McFarland invented the Strider No-Pedal Balance Bike. Its simplicity makes it easy to learn to ride, and that builds confidence in a young rider, eliminating fear and confusion. The young rider propels himself with his feet, which eliminates the need to worry about learning to pedal while learning the techniques of balance and leaning. Strider Bikes observed its 10th anniversary in business this year, still headquartered in Rapid City but selling its bicycles all over the globe.

Wheel Chairs for Third World Countries: Act of Excellence

Wheel Chair Test Lab SDSMT

A group of students at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology are working with an international charity to develop a test laboratory aimed at making it possible to build better wheelchairs more quickly to meet an underserved need globally.  The students are involved in a partnership with Free Wheelchair Mission, a world leader in providing mobility for people with disabilities, and with Rapid City-based RPM and Associates, Inc.

“The test lab is designed to propel wheelchairs over repeated obstacles while continuously monitoring stress, strain, accelerations, and temperature rise due to friction,’’ the release said. “The obstacles will be designed to simulate the same types of obstacles that wheelchair users encounter in developing world conditions.’’