Jim Abbott’s last day at USD: ‘I’m grateful beyond belief’

Argus Leader

By Mick Garry, June 21, 2018
Image of James W. Abbott

2017 Inductee James W. Abbott

VERMILLION – Getting down to the last hours of his tenure, University of South Dakota president Jim Abbott sorted through one final pile of assorted certificates, papers and documents in his office, an office now so barren his chief of staff Laura McNaughton had to move a chair in from the other room when a visitor arrived.

This was it after 21 years. The man who came to be known as “G.O.A.T” by students – greatest of all time – was going to leave the headquarters from which he’d spearheaded a dramatic rebuilding of USD’s campus over two decades. For the first time in those 21 years this 1970 USD grad would be leaving that office with no plans to come back.

“I’m grateful beyond belief that I had this job for 21 years,” he said from behind his desk. “I don’t think from an emotional standpoint there is much better than being the president of your alma mater. But there’s a time for everything to end, and at 70 years old after 21 years, it’s clearly time for me to be done. I won’t say I won’t miss things. I’m going to miss the people and particularly the kids but it’s time for my next chapter, whatever that is. I hope it’s not a very complicated chapter.”

Abbott and the visitor laughed at that, understanding on his last day it was OK to admit he was looking forward to a break.

In those 21 years, there was always an old building that needed a gutting and renovation. There was almost always a hole in the ground somewhere on campus where a new building was going up. The dreams and drawings of that next project, be it a business school or a med school or a fitness center or a 6,000-seat basketball arena, were always waiting on deck.

“It didn’t take a genius to understand the campus had become somewhat rundown,” he said, going back to the days when he first took the job in 1997. In the midst of a successful business career that included regular dalliances in politics, he didn’t have a road map that would guide him over the next two decades, nor did he have a traditional academic background for a college president. What he did have was the knowledge was that whatever direction he went, he’d end up at a place on campus that needed some scrubbing up.

The school’s endowment has gone from less than $50 million to nearly $250 million in those 21 years. This is in addition to funding Division I sports. And then all those buildings. The campus only vaguely resembles the one people would see on a drive down Cherry Street in 1997.

“I thought I could raise money,” he said. “And I knew that’s what needed to happen. Anyone could look at kindergarten enrollment and see what it was going to be like in 12 years. It wasn’t a pretty picture. Recruitment was going to be important. I was shocked when I started out that the office of admissions was in the basement of Slagle Hall between the bathrooms and the pop machine. That didn’t seem to me like a particularly great strategy for recruiting new students.”

He and the visitor laugh again at that. It’s a day for this kind of thing. Earlier that morning he was clearing out the last of his belongings in the dorm room where he’d been staying since February. This was after the heart attack that sent him to the sidelines for about a week.

The president’s home was going to be remodeled for his successor, and he had a choice of an apartment or a spot over at Coyote Village for his last months at USD. He chose the dorm and brought his dog “McGovern” with him. Nobody called him out on having a pet in the dorm, and nobody woke him up in the middle of the night.

Thursday morning, he was out of the dorm. He’d gathered McGovern’s bowls and bed, gave the place one more looking over, then returned the key to Michele Crawford, who was running the front desk in the Coyote Village lobby.

Crawford and Abbott exchanged a warm good-bye with Crawford telling him, much like she might a departing senior, that it was a pleasure having him stay there. A few students watched with curiosity as their president checked out of the same place they were living.

The ease of the exchanges between the president and the students is brought up again during those last minutes in the office. It was not an accident or a matter of convenience that Abbott and McGovern always went for a walk on campus rather than down some street where nobody was going to bother them.

“Students will always approach a dog,” he said. “You have to have something to talk to them about. I liked hearing their opinions. I didn’t always think they thought things through, but that’s the purpose of college. The goal of a liberal arts education is to teach you how to think. I always enjoyed talking with the students. They were always fun, and I always had their support, and I appreciated that.”

He’s proud of the school’s transition to Division I athletics and marvels still that he’d be as smitten by the sports programs as he was. He did not grow up much of an athlete or even follow sports. He still doesn’t, he said, beyond whatever is going on with the Coyotes.

The decision to move to Division I or stay at Division II became a more pressing issue in the years after rival South Dakota State made the jump in 2004. Understanding the potential benefits and challenges — as well as the long-term ramifications of doing nothing at all — became a part of the job to an extent it never had before.

As those at USD discovered, the school didn’t need a president who knows the difference between a zone and a man-to-man defense to be the man for the job.

“It was a significant challenge,” he said. “Our students, our faculty and our alums rose to the occasion. I think everybody agrees that was a good thing. We had a little bit of a saying around here when a question came up that needed to be answered. We’d always ask ‘Is it student-centered? And, is it what a really good Division I school would do?’”

His wife, Collette, died in 2016 at age 59. The seats at the Sanford Coyote Sports Center are a vivid red because she suggested it back when the facility was under construction. A framed picture of his late wife’s father sitting on a horse with other members of the Pierre polo team from the 1940s is one of the last remaining personal items in the office.

A group of men who had been moving Abbott’s things stopped by in those last few minutes and asked if there was anything else they could do. Specifically they wondered about what to do about a navy blue coat they found.

“I never really liked that jacket,” Abbott tells them. “But I guess I’ll put it in the car. I left it in the closet for 40 years.”

Chances are it doesn’t make it to Nantucket, where Abbott will spend much of the summer, or the Jersey Shore or any of the other places he plans to travel over the next eight to 10 months. He will move to Sioux Falls at some point, and he’s going to give Gestring, the former vice president of finance and chief financial officer at USD who is replacing him, plenty of room in carving out her own path.

Just before the moving men left, one of them paused and, recognizing the moment, expressed his gratitude.

“Well, thank you for everything,” he told Abbott. “We appreciate all of it.”

There have been more formal thank yous thrown his way over the last six months and there will be more yet, but this was a good one to go out on. Earnest, heart-felt and unprovoked.

Read more about Jame’s legacy of achievements here.

After a century, unmarked graves of infants dedicated at Woodlawn Cemetery

Argus Leader

By Garrett Ammesmaki, June 22, 2018
2011 Inductee Gary Conradi

2011 Inductee Gary Conradi

A bagpipe bleated out “The Bells of Dublane” as almost 50 people walked through Woodlawn Cemetery.

They were there to remember the departed, all of whom were infants and most that died over a century ago.

The Tuesday afternoon service of remembrance was the culmination of a project started two years ago to mark the graves of 30 orphaned babies who passed between 1906 and 1930, but were unable to afford a marker.

“These babies, infants, were alive and they existed, but there’s no visible record of them being here. Our feeling was, we should correct that,” said Gary Conradi, a member of the board of directors for Woodlawn Cemetery.

Conradi spearheaded a fundraiser for the $10,000 needed for the markers. It was a success, receiving $16,000 in donations. Some primary contributors were the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sheldon F. Reese Foundation. There are 30 or more spots yet to be marked, but Conradi said the remaining funds will be used toward rectifying that.

The event comes during the 125th anniversary of the South Dakota Children’s Home Society, where most of the babies lived during their short lives.

“It’s just so special to be a part of this, to learn about this, and really reconnect with a part of our history that we didn’t even know about,” said Rick Weber, Children’s Home Society Development Director.

The Children Home’s Society was South Dakota’s primary orphanage for decades, meaning many of the babies came from cities across the state — spanning from Chamberlain to Watertown.

“Life is precious,” Conradi said, “and I think it needs to be recognized reverently and respectfully.”

The Roosevelt High School chorus performed for the event, which included a mediation and dedication from Reverend Heidi Binstock of Westside Lutheran Church.

For Conradi, the project hits close to home. He had two brothers who died during infancy, both were buried not far from the new markers.

“My parents felt the need for a marker, and as I was growing up we would come here and plant flowers on memorial day,” he said. “My parents are now deceased, so I’ve continued that.”

Read more about Gary’s legacy of achievements here.

Sioux Falls Stockyard Plaza Exceeds Fundraising Goal!

Sioux City Journal Picture: A rendering is shown of the Stockyards Plaza, set for construction in 2019 . Organizers exceeded their $1.19 million goal, raising nearly $1.26 million for the development of a 3.63-acre park on the southwest corner of what was once the Sioux Falls Stockyards.

Inductees Co-Chair Dana Dykhouse and Jim Woster are involved with the project. Read their stories of excellence at sdexcellence.org

Sioux City Journal: — The Stockyards Ag Experience outdid itself with a fundraising campaign for the outdoor plaza portion of the Stockyards museum in Sioux Falls.

The project exceeding its $1.19 million goal for the Sioux Falls Area Chamber of Commerce Community Appeal, raising nearly $1.26 million, which will go toward the development of a 3.6-acre park on the southwest corner of what was once the Sioux Falls stockyards. The project compliments the Ag Experience Barn and Stockyards museum across the street at Falls Park.

The plaza will walk visitors from “pasture to plate” through areas that talk about cultivating, raising, tending and celebrating farm-grown food. The plaza is meant to honor the community’s agricultural roots by interpreting the history of the stockyards while celebrating the impact of contemporary agriculture.

There will be a picnic shelter and public restrooms designed with a farmyard theme.

“The Stockyards Ag Experience Plaza will have a transformative effect on Falls Park and the entire Sioux Falls Area,” said Dana Dykhouse of First Premier Bank, who co-chaired the fundraising campaign. “The destination is a quality of life enhancement and will provide educational opportunities for all ages that honor our community’s agricultural history while serving as an important gateway into one of Sioux Falls’ more cherished areas – Falls Park.”

The Stockyards Ag Experience Barn, which opened last March, has welcomed guests from 47 states and nine foreign countries.

The total project budget for both phases of the project is $4.1 million. The Community Appeal and funds raised in the region have already contributed more than $2 million. Detailed planning is next, and the plaza should be constructed in 2019.


Image of Jeff Broin

Inductee Jeff Broin 2017 CEO POET unseats ADM as top global fuel ethanol maker

 Jeff’s story of excellence at this link

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Privately held U.S.-based POET Llc has overtaken industry pioneer and global grain merchant Archer Daniels Midland Co to become the top ethanol producer in the world, the companies told Reuters.

The shift highlights the differing tacks top biofuel makers are taking to address lackluster profits, a supply glut and the oil lobby’s push against the U.S. biofuels program.

ADM is reducing exposure while POET is expanding in an effort to increase profits through efficiency and scale.

POET’s annual biofuel capacity has grown to 1.9 billion gallons and will reach 2 billion by 2019; ADM’s has shrunk to about 1.6 billion gallons, according to figures provided by each company. Prior to this year, both had capacities of about 1.8 billion gallons.

The U.S. ethanol industry has total output potential of more than 16 billion gallons.

ADM, which will report first-quarter 2018 earnings on Tuesday, diverted some of its capacity to beverage and industrial alcohol at its plant in Peoria, Illinois, as part of a strategy to make higher-margin products.

Meanwhile, POET boosted output by adding grain fermenters and other upgrades at several of its 27 ethanol plants and is expanding a facility in Marion, Ohio.

POET constantly finds “new ways to increase yield, make gains in efficiency and maximize returns,” Jeff Broin, POET chief executive officer, told Reuters on Friday.

 Possible acquisitions by POET of other U.S. ethanol plants are also a possibility, Broin said. Both POET and ADM are pushing for increased U.S. ethanol exports and more sales of higher-ethanol blends to draw down abundant supplies of both grain and biofuel.

“There are 20 billion bushels of corn, wheat and soybeans stockpiled globally with no end in sight,” Broin said. “This oversupply has led to four straight years of declining farm income, which is why we’re entering into a modern-day (agriculture) crisis.”

The Black Director Who Should Have Won an Oscar

Snapshot(3).png Inductee Oscar Micheaux – read his story of excellence at sdexcellence.org  by Gil Troy of the Daily Beast: The grandson of slaves, Oscar Micheaux made 44 movies, becoming the “Cecil B. De Mille of Race Movies,” and the “Czar of Black Hollywood,” inspired by the 1915: Birth of a Nation.

Micheaux’s birthplace, Murphysboro, Illinois, in 1884, and upbringing on a Kansas farm with ten siblings, set him up to be a middle American. But his adopted hometown of Gregory, South Dakota, which celebrates his legacy with a festival, reflects the frontier pioneer he chose to be. When he was 21 he was already homesteading 160 acres in South Dakota. Tough and ambitious, he found acceptance out West—neighbors complimented him as one of them, by calling him more South Dakotan than black.

Back in the Dakotas, Micheaux became the door-to-door cowboy salesman. Not trusting publishers, he established his own publishing company. Trusting his own salesmanship, he sold his first three—of seven—autobiographical novels to his neighbors one-by-one, from farm-to-farm: The Conquest in 1913, The Forged Note in 1915, and The Homesteader in 1917.

 A restless, all-American go-getter, forever looking for new horizons, even while trailblazing his latest frontier, Micheaux leaped from forgettable pioneer novelist to history-making pioneer movie-maker in 1918. The vicious but vivid Ku Klux Klan-infused movie The Birth of a Nation, gave him his “Aha” moment. He immediately appreciated movies as a moving story-telling medium, absorbing viewers into worlds producers produced. Read the full article here 

POET Donates $250,000 to SD Ag Foundation

“We want to do whatever we can do to help our farmers and future generations of farmers succeed.” ~POET CEO Jeff Broin

Image of Jeff Broin

2017 Inductee Jeff Broin

SIOUX FALLS, SD (March 20, 2018) – At a time when agriculture is facing economic challenges, POET is backing efforts to grow the industry in South Dakota through a $250,000 donation to the South Dakota Ag Foundation.

The donation was announced at a press conference today, Ag Day 2018, at POET’s headquarters with Gov. Dennis Daugaard and SD Ag Foundation President Nate Franzen and Executive Director Chris Maxwell. The money will go toward a challenge for the foundation to raise $4 million over the next five years. Gov. Daugaard announced that the state is matching donations 1:4 to add an additional $1 million to that total.

“Agriculture drives this state and every community in it,” Broin said. “This effort to promote ag education, market development, research and more is crucial for the future of South Dakota. We are proud that biofuels have provided the primary avenue for growth in ag markets over the last two decades, and they will play a vital role in helping farmers recover from the hardship they face today. We want to do whatever we can to help our farmers and future generations of farmers succeed.”

Gov. Daugaard also pointed to agriculture’s prominent role in South Dakota’s culture and economy.

“We take pride in agriculture here in South Dakota, and to see SD Agricultural Foundation’s commitment to invest in the future of agriculture is commendable,” Daugaard said. “This challenge will ensure growth in the industry, while highlighting the need for philanthropy in agriculture.”

Broin also spoke to the challenges facing agriculture today and how farmers and the biofuels industry must work together to improve the rural economy.

“Today we are working to make E15 a nationwide, year-round fuel for all drivers. This will inject new life into rural South Dakota communities,” Broin said. “In fact, if you look at the supply and demand data for worldwide commodities, it becomes obvious that in the future, farmers are going to need an ever-increasing percentage of consumers’ gas tanks.”

POET is the largest company in South Dakota, with six biofuel facilities in the state and 28 in the Midwest, plus its headquarters in Sioux Falls. The company’s combined impact on South Dakota alone includes more than $2 billion in business revenues, $384.4 million in household earnings and creating or supporting more than 4,500 jobs.

Since its inception in 2016, the SD Ag Foundation has raised close to half a million dollars. This year, the industry-led, nonprofit organization is supporting 23 organizations involved in youth ag education across South Dakota with grants totaling $34,165.

Programs supported by the Ag Foundation include SD Ag in the Classroom, which provides interactive, digital ag education materials for South Dakota schools. They also support activities from local FFA, 4-H and other groups and provide grants for innovation and leadership programs for South Dakota youth.

About POET

POET, the world’s largest biofuels producer, is a leader in biorefining through its efficient, vertically integrated approach to production. The 30-year-old company has a network of 27 production facilities. POET, through its joint venture with DSM, also operates a commercial-scale cellulosic biofuel plant in Emmetsburg, Iowa. For more information, visit http://www.poet.com.

Read more about Jeff’s legacy of achievement here.