Hello fellow huskers and friends! It is difficult to believe that the summer season is waning and the fall season is fast approaching. Where did May, June, and July go? It is my contention that farmers are so busy that a whole season can pass without us really taking the time to savor the short-sleeved days and beautiful evenings.
We finished haying a couple of weeks ago after baling a hundred acres of CRP ground. We hauled lots of bales to our barns this past week and eager to finish the job this second week of August. State Fair time is just around the corner, and we are heading to Des Moines on the eleventh to see the Iowa show. We always enjoy the good times that the state fairs present, and will take in a rock and roll music show as well.
With the advent of August comes much anticipation of good times for me. Not only is it the fair season, but also the time of a slower-paced farm work schedule. The maturing corn crop also brings anticipation of the approaching cornhusking contests that I very much enjoy.
The corn in our area looks good, but it is suffering from lack of water and the heat. Our state contest field at the Saline County Fairgrounds in Marshall looks very good and the contest will be held September 29. As most of you already know, South Dakota will host our National this fall. It will be a historical event because the site for the ’07 contest is the same field that was used for the 1938 Dell Rapids National. It will be exciting to be in the same area that so many people gathered sixty-nine years ago. Therefore, I can think of no better topic for my historian’s article than some South Dakota cornhusking history.
Leonard Jacobs revealed in his book, Battle of the Bangboards, that 1938 was the only time that South Dakota hosted a pre-World War II National. An estimated crowd of 125,000-130,000 people attended the fifteenth annual contest in Dell Rapids that year. Newspaper articles from Fred and Verna Fedeler revealed that the contest was held on Jim and Nellie Jensen’s farm one and a half miles northeast of town.
According to an article from the Dell Rapids’ Attic, festive events for November 3 National began four days prior to the contest. At Sunday’s dedication a crowd of 50,000 attended the opening ceremonies to listen to a band concert and speeches of prominent clergymen and politicians. Monday and Tuesday were set aside for visiting the many exhibits located on the eighty acres that became known as the Tent City. Tents were needed for the many exhibitions, the temporary fire department, post office, food stands, and the emergency hospital with its corps of physicians. The South Dakota Exhibition tent alone measured 50 by 230 feet. The Fish and Game Department created a camp of the Black Hills surrounded by pine trees, game birds, and deer. A replica of Mount Rushmore measuring ten feet high and thirty feet long was also brought in for the exhibition. Homestake Gold Mine also had an exhibition that included a cross-section of a mine, and an Indian village was set up to provide a little western flavor. The main features on Wednesday included a queen contest and an evening cornhusker’s banquet held at the Sioux Falls Coliseum. The queen’s contest featured fifteen candidates representing counties throughout South Dakota, and the winner was Miss Venita Apply from Union County.
On the day of the contest cold, windy, and wet conditions settled over the contest area. A steady stream of automobiles began moving slowly through local towns towards Dell Rapids. In the early morning hours nearby towns reported long lines of cars, and a severe traffic jam was reported at Hardwick, Minnesota. The roads leading to the contest field were choked with bumper-to-bumper traffic as the cars rolled into the area. Volunteers from National Guard units, the state Highway Patrol, and a special group of patrolmen on horses assisted in regulating the traffic. The parking and traffic system worked well at the six huge parking lots that accommodated nearly 35,000 cars. In addition, special trains carried approximately two thousand people to the field, and the passengers disembarked at a nearby road crossing and walked the short distance to the field.
The parade preceding the opening of the contest was reported to be one of the most spectacular ever presented in the state. The two-mile long parade was filled with color, had seven marching bands, the twenty-one huskers’ wagons with brightly decorated bang boards, the queen and other queen candidates, a band of Oglala Sioux Indians, and a great array of modern farm machinery. I have seen some film footage of the parade, and it was indeed a site to behold.
The National on Thursday, November 3 briefly put Dell Rapids in the national spotlight. It involved considerable effort and planning on the part of scores of people. Contest workers for the five day event numbered around two thousand people. Local stores reported brisk sales of overshoes, and the local telegraph office never had a busier day. Nearly six thousand pieces of mail were handled at the temporary post office at the field. In remembrance of the event, the Jensen family was presented with a beautiful silver service set from the husking contest.
After Kansas and Iowa revived their state contests in the early ‘70s, it was not long before South Dakota found itself back in the cornhusking business. Enthusiastic workers for this revival came from the Burton and Jo Burkman family, Burton Ode and family, Jo Burkman’s father Joe Glanzer, Ken Tschetter, Bernie Burkman and family, and many other local people. The state featured its revival contest on October 9 and 10, 1976 on the Bernie Burkman farm a couple miles southeast of Brandon. By 1978 a local non-profit organization called the Dakota Heritage Association was formed to help sponsor the husking contests. Under the guidance of Burton and Jo Burkman, South Dakota hosted its first post-War national in 1978 at their farm. The national champion and the runner-up positions were both won by South Dakota men, Lawrence Nielson and Herb Swason, respectively. The national contest returned to their farm twice more in 1984 and 1989. This farm joined a very elite group of sites to stage so many national contests. Two other sites that have hosted three Nationals include the Hockersmith farms at Oakley, Kansas and the Saline County Fairgrounds at Marshall, Missouri. The fourth post-War national held in South Dakota occurred in 1998 at the McCrossan Boys Ranch near Sioux Falls.
As you can see, the area around Brandon-Dell Rapids has much national cornhusking history. This fall will mark the fifth time that a post-War national will be held in this area of the country. A phone conversation with national president Fred Fedeler revealed that the Jensen farm received about an inch of rain over the weekend. The corn looks to be pretty good for the contest this fall. Though much of the surrounding area has been fairly dry, the location of the field is on some better ground.
This fall will present us with a wonderful opportunity to visit South Dakota and participate in some cornhusking activities and history. It will be an occasion to enjoy time with our families, renew friendships with fellow huskers and friends, and see some different country. I, personally, am going to take a deter to the St. Paul area to visit with my sister and her family enroute to the contest field. They, then, plan to come to Dell Rapids on Sunday to watch me compete. My sister and husband practice medicine in the Twin Cities area. After the contest, we plan to head west to the Black Hills for some sightseeing-- on the way home.
I hope that the rest of the summer will be safe and productive for all of you. If God is willing, I hope to see you in Dell Rapids for some good times!!!!!!