Due in large part to fraternal organizations and the Boe Forum (the result of an endowment made by former governor Nils Boe to the Augustana College Center for Western Studies), Sioux Falls has played host to major players in the world scene over the years. From heads of state, to political masterminds, to sports celebrities, even a national badboy; it has proven difficult to carve out a list of only 15 “Most Important Visitors to Sioux Falls” but we gave it our best shot! Here we go:
15. Ken Griffey and Ken Griffey Jr. – Between this father and son duo there are 16 All-Star Team selections, 3 World Series Championship rings, a couple of All-Star Game MVP awards, and tons of personal accolades including Golden Gloves, Home Run Derby Championships, batting, homerun, and RBI titles, Silver Slugger awards, and even an American League MVP award. They both hold a place of honor in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame and Jr. was selected to the MLB All-Century Team (alongside national heroes like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra, and Ty Cobb). Of course, it could be argued that this level of greatness never would have been achieved had it not been for a pit stop in Sioux Falls, SD. In 1970 Ken Griffey Sr. was assigned to the Sioux Falls Packers (then the Class A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds). Sr. did not have a great season and Jr. (less than a year old at the time) was probably oblivious to the world around him, but for a few short months baseball greatness walked (or was pushed in a stroller) down the streets of Sioux Falls.
14. Colin Powell – Colin Powell is a first generation American from New York who by way of the United States Army reached just about as high in the political world as is humanely possible. He has been a Four Star Army General, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, the National Security Advisor to Ronald Regan, Secretary of State to George W. Bush, and a primary candidate and nominee for both Vice President and President of the United States of America. Gen. Powell was the very first speaker of the Boe Forum at Augustana College in 1995. He was just over 1 year removed from being the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and on everyone’s radar as a potential presidential candidate to oppose Bill Clinton in 1996. Powell’s speech, as well as his continued effort outside of the political arena, focused on leadership and giving our young people the tools to be successful leaders of tomorrow!
13. Maria Von Trapp – At its heart the story of Maria Rainer in the classic movie “A Sound of Music,” is an autobiography of Maria Von Trapp adapted to film from her best-selling book, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers”. At the outbreak of WWII Maria and her family fled to the US. In need of money and with a deep desire to give back to those unable to leave her Austrian homeland, Baroness Von Trapp and her family began touring as a singing choir and eventually began recording and selling music. Maria was not only able to lift her family up out of despair, as well as all of the people she touched with her music, she was able to send hundreds of thousands of dollars back to Europe to aide in relief. Maria Von Trapp came to Sioux Falls as a speaker and guest of the now defunct Knife-and-Fork Club.
12. President George W. Bush – Though not as politically important as some of the visits by other Commander’s in Chief, President Bush receives credit for swinging by our great city three times while he held the nation’s highest office. Just a few months after being elected Bush came to town as a part of a tour to “re-connect” with the American Heartland, and to build support for his proposed Tax Cuts. Almost a year later he returned in large part to fundraise for then Congressman John Thune in his hunt for a senate seat. On his second trip President Bush also rallied support for a bi-partisan agriculture bill. On his final stop to our fair city, only a few months after viist #2, Bush swung through again in support of Congressman Thune.
11. John Phillips Sousa – One of the few non-political names to make our list, John Phillips Sousa, otherwise know as “The King of March,” brought his band to Sioux Falls way back in 1925. A November 22, 1925 article in the Argus Leader reads “John Phillips Sousa has, without a doubt, done as much or more for music in America and for American music than any other person in the United States.” His most famous pieces include “Simper Fidelus” (the official march of the United States Marine Corps) and “Stars and Stripes Foreer” (the National March of the United States). He is also the inventor of the Sousaphone, a variation to the tuba, which can be better “worn” around the body and projects sound up and out instead of laterally.
10. President Woodrow Wilson – Heralded by many historians as one of the “Top 10 Presidents of the United States,” Woodrow Wilson made two stops in Sioux Falls, one a quick campaign stop in the 1912 Presidential Race, and the other on September 8th 1919 just 17 days before a series of strokes all but ended his effective work as President of the United States. President Wilson’s second stop in the budding city of Sioux Falls was a part of his tour of the American West, building public support for the ratification of the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I. A large part of the resistance to the treaty was its plan for the creation of a “League of Nation,” which many Americans saw as a threat to their national identity and power. Wilson criss-crossed the western half of our country giving multiple speeches everyday trying to gain popular support for the treaty until health problems brought an end to the tour.
9. George Herman “Babe” Ruth – Coming off of one of his worst seasons in the MLB, both statically and because of disputes with league officials, Ruth spent the off-season “barn-storming” the western US in 1922. This also led to Ruth appearing for spring training before the 1923 season in the best shape the Yankees had ever seen him, weighing in at 210 lbs. He would go on to be the 1923 American League MVP, as well as that years Home Run and RBI Champion. One of the stops made on that “barn-storming” trip out west, was in our great city, Sioux Falls, SD. Babe Ruth, a recognizable name to anyone with a pulse in those days drew huge crowds at every stop and was always a fan favorite.
8. Sandra Day O’Connor – The first woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O’Connor found herself in our beautiful city on November 24, 2008 as the 13th speaker of the Boe Forum. Only 2 years removed from her near 25 years of service to this great nation, Justice Day O’Connor’s speech was full of stories from her time on the bench, as well as a thorough explanation of the Supreme Courts unique apolitical post within the political shark tank of Washington. She will always be known and remembered for her independent approach to each case which regularly made her the “Swing Vote” in the midst of the other “Bloc Voters” on the bench.
7. Mikhail Gorbachev – The man most responsible for the end of the “Cold War” and revolution in Eastern Europe, took in the beauty of Sioux Falls in October 1996 as the 3rd Boe Forum Speaker. 5 years earlier in 1991 Gorbachev resigned as the leader of the USSR, after having spent 6 years as one of the most powerful men in the world. Though not his intended purpose, Mikhail Gorbachev with his push for reform in the Soviet Union, awakened the spirit of nationalism and was the catalyst of independence for nations within the union. In his speech on the Augustana College campus, the former Soviet Leader encouraged listeners to look to the future and continually push for reforms and rights for the people.
6. John F. Kennedy – Had he made his trip to Sioux Falls a little later in his career, he very well might be at the top of this list! In June 1960, less than a month before the Democratic National Convention and in the midst of a heated primary race, then Senator Kennedy gave a speech in Sioux Falls at the American Legion Plow Competition. In the tight primary race for the Democratic candidacy, presidential hopefuls were criss-crossing the country trying to secure every delegate vote they could swing before the convention. Kennedy also used his time in Sioux Falls to poke holes in the Republican support, citing their inconsistent promises and follow through in policy making regarding American farm support.
5. Martin Luther King, Jr. – In January 1961 the national face of the civil rights movement spent time in Sioux Falls, building nation-wide support for a non-violent protest against civil inequality. He made speeches at a local black churches, the now defunct Knife-and-Fork Club, as well as sitting down for a video interview with KELO news anchor Doug Hill (watch the video here) Pictures and first hand accounts of King’s visit can be viewed at the South Dakota African American Musuem located on the main level of the Washington Pavilion.
4. Eddie Rickenbacker – From humble beginnings in Ohio Eddie went on to become a larger than life race car driver, automotive engineer, businessman, WWI Ace Fighter Pilot, government consultant, diplomat, and airline mogul. Eddie visited Sioux Falls as a guest of the Knife-and-Fork club. The bulk of his speech focused on American’s pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps and not relying on handouts from his very public antagonist President FDR. Eddie was an American hero, the “Ace of Aces” having singly handily downed 26 enemy planes in combat (a feat not to be repeated again until WWII Ace, and Sioux Falls’ native son Joe Foss accomplished the same). Getting a chance to listen to Fast Eddie Rickenbacker was greater than listening to any president or statesman of the time!
3. President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt – President Roosevelt is almost always listed among the “Top 5 Presidents” in American History. Having personally experienced many different avenues of the American Dream as a rancher, police officer, cavalryman, hunter/naturalist, scientist, writer, historian/researcher, president, and many other political offices Roosevelt was able to bring a very unique and plain spoken approach to our nation’s highest office. Unique and plain spoken would also typify his two visits to Sioux Falls. Although he spent many years as a rancher in the Dakota Territory (almost entirely in what is now North Dakota), the first record of President Roosevelt visiting Sioux Falls comes in April 1903. The 26th president again visited our city in 1910. Both visits were short stops on campaign tours throughout the region. The vehicle Roosevelt rode in on his 1910 visit is on display in the Old Court House Museum in Downtown Sioux Falls. The “Fawick Flyer” as it was called, was the first ever 4-door automobile designed by Sioux Falls native and renowned inventor Thomas L. Fawick.
2. Madeline Albright – the plain spoken Czech-born diplomat and politician, became the 15th Boe Forum guest in 2010. From work in a small local newspaper, to the UN, all the way to high reaches of the west wing, as Secretary of State to the Clinton Administration, Albright is and has been the authority on foreign policy in this country for decades. A champion of women and children’s rights as well as for the poor and wanting in the US and around the world, Secretary Albright has used her voice and the authority of her many offices to improve conditions for individuals around the world and to bring the global community closer together. Her speech at the Boe Forum was riddled with laughter as well as moments of seriousness and concern, with a very clear message for the American people to take action and take part in restoring America to its place as a leader in this global community.
1. Johnny Dillinger – Although he wasn’t generous with his “loot” like the fairy tale hero Robin Hood or the Civil War Era bank robber Jessie James (who made a visit to this area as well), Johnny Dillinger became a national hero when in the midst of the “Great Depression” he stole from those in the highest echelon of society, the individuals who appeared unburdened by the devastation that had gripped the nation. Weekly and even sometimes daily news reports of Dillinger’s successful robberies didn’t only serve to endear him to the national public; it also made him the prize of the newly restructured Federal Bureau of Investigation, under J. Edgar Hoover. Ripples from his headline stealing heists reached all the way to the White House where President FDR made a personal declaration to the head of the FBI to end Dillinger’s dastardly run. Among other things this pressure from the White House prompted the FBI to name Johnny Dillinger “Public Enemy #1” and offer rewards for assistance in capturing the criminal. On March 6, 1934 Dillinger and accomplices including “Baby Face” Nelson strolled into Northwest Securities National Bank and Trust on the Corner of 9th St. and Main Ave. in downtown Sioux Falls. The robbers made off with approx. $50,000, and severely injured policeman Hale Keith. They would escape using three women as human shields before dropping them off in the bitter South Dakota cold a few miles outside of town [read a firsthand account here!][listen to a portion of another account here!]. The building has been partially remodeled and is now the home of Johnson, Heidepriem & Abdallah Law Firm.