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.’’

Acts of Excellence Celebrated in Rapid City – Bob & Jim Phillips Restore Awards

KEVN News: Rapid City 

Wednesday a few locals were recognized by the South Dakota Hall of Fame.

The Hall of Fame honored these individuals from the Black Hills at the Acts of Excellence Celebration.

Some honorees fed the homeless and some created innovative technology.

Jim Phillips was recognized for “preserving history” by restoring 84 trophies from Lead and Deadwood High Schools to their former glory.

The oldest trophy dated back to 1908 and the most recent trophy was from 2008.

Jim Phillips says, “Feels great to see those things back. I bought the West River championship trophy that the kids won in 1963 and you know seeing all those trophies that all those kids worked so hard to win, it brings back a lot of memories. I’ve pretty much been associated with swimming all of my life so it’s a great feeling to be honored by the Hall of Fame.”

Phillips says all of the trophies and plaques from swimming to basketball to the debate team are on display at the Deadwood Recreation and Aquatic Center at 105 Sherman Street.