Saturday, December 29, 2018

Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission awards grants

The modern farmhouse at 544 8th St., built in 1895, was one of the
recipients of a Spearfish Historic Preservation paint grant in 2018.

Pioneer photo by Kaija Swisher
In 2018, the Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission orchestrated a Paint Grant Program with three grants awarded and two recipients able to complete the work within the requirements: Chris and Melissa Haught, at 544 8th St., and Kathy Bohn at 730 8th St., received $500 matching-funds reimbursement grants for paint materials and/or labor for an exterior painting project.
The Spearfish Historic Preservation Commission established the Paint Grant Program to assist residents of Spearfish with the financial cost of painting residential, owner-occupied properties built pre-1950. The commission seeks to inspire and promote pride of ownership and to protect historic architecture.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Deadwood Fund grant applications due February 1st

The South Dakota State Historical Society announces that the applications for the first round of the 2019 Deadwood Fund grant program are due on Feb. 1, 2019, for work beginning no earlier than May 1, 2019. 

You can access the necessary forms online.  They can be found at the following URL:

The program is designed to encourage restoration or rehabilitation of historic properties by individuals, organizations or public agencies, according to Jay D. Vogt, director of the State Historical Society, whose historic preservation office administers the program. “It is one more way we can promote and protect our history and culture,” Vogt said.

Grants will be awarded in amounts ranging from $1,000 to $25,000. The grant amount must be matched at least on a dollar-for-dollar basis from nonfederal and nonstate sources. Nonprofit organizations will be allowed to use in-kind services for one-half of their match.

In 2017, $123,869 was awarded among 10 projects, which had matching funds of $360,498, resulting in a total public-private investment of $484,367.

Funding for the program is from Deadwood gaming revenue earmarked by state law for historic preservation projects throughout the state and distributed by the State Historical Society.

The second round of 2019 applications will be due Oct. 1, 2019, for work beginning no earlier than Jan. 1, 2020.

For more information on the South Dakota State Historical Society’s Deadwood Fund grant program, contact the State Historic Preservation Office at the Cultural Heritage Center, 900 Governors Drive, Pierre, SD 57501-2217; telephone 605-773-3458.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

CCC had big impact across the Black Hills – and the country!

Given the abundance of Civilian Conservation Corps projects all across America in the 1930's, including many in the Black Hills – this video should be of great interest to history buffs across the region.  Dakota Life is a wonderful series produced by South Dakota Public Broadcasting.

I think you'll enjoy this Reflections and Preservation episode of the Dakota Life series. The "CCC in the Black Hills" segment was produced by Brian Gevik.  Perhaps it'll spur you to visit the small but impressive CCC Museum on the outskirts of Hill City.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Potter Family leads Veterans Day program in Spearfish

by Larry Miller

The High Plains Western Heritage Center in Spearfish
It was 100 years ago today that an armistice brought World War One to an end.  The so-called "Great War" was also dubbed "The War to End All Wars."  Alas, it's never quite worked out that way.

Although the fighting had stopped on November 11, 1918, it wasn't until the following year – 1919 – that the Treaty of Versailles formally ended the war.  Many countries around the world adopted November 11 as a "Day of Remembrance" to commemorate the end to the war and pay tribute to  veterans.  It wasn't until 1954, after World War Two and the Korean War, that the United States officially selected November 11 as Veterans Day – a day to honor American veterans of all wars.

And our country has been doing just that for 64 years.

Today, we attended the Veterans Day program at the High Plains Western Heritage Center (HPWHC) in southeast Spearfish, perched on a bluff overlooking the city.  

The event was subtitled, "Honoring All Who Served."  What a grand experience it was!

We knew this was going to be something special as we approached the museum parking lot shortly after 1 o'clock, less that a half-hour before the program would start.  The parking lot was nearly full.  Of course, having the talented Potter Family perform their "USO-style" music was sure to be a big draw.

The foyer was filled with people waiting to get into the theatre, where there would be standing room only in the back of the hall.  The above photo was snapped as the show was about to begin.

We knew nothing about the guest speaker, Colonel Mike Kain.    His talk was entitled "Veterans Day and Political Correctness."  He promised it would be short...and not necessarily politically correct.  He kept his word.  

He further indicated that it was not his intention to offend anyone. Not surprisingly, his comments reflected conservative values.  If anyone took offense, nothing was said.  I doubt that few, if anyone, was offended.  Colonel Kain spoke of values likely embraced by an audience comprised mostly of senior citizens – many of them veterans.  His talk was well done and received a strong round of approving applause.

And what can we say about the Potter Family that hasn't already been said by others?  Of course, we'd been entertained by the Potters many times over the past decade or so – since we first arrived in this region 14 years ago.  That's about the time we recall hearing Clover Potter (may I call her the Potter family matriarch?) as an announcer at KBHB Radio in Sturgis.  We knew nothing then about the musical exploits of the Potter Family – but recognized Clover as a superb talent and great asset for KBHB.  

The Potter Family 
It should be no surprise that the Potter Family knows how to put on a good show.  Their website notes that they've "been singing and performing since childhood.  Mother Clover Potter cut her teeth on gospel music in church before adopting the role of entertainer and professional singer, performing in such venues as the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and with such artists as Wanda Jackson."

Daughters Natana and WoAbba – as well as son Orion – grew up singing gospel music in churches and other religious venues across the country for eight years.  Orion would spend many years traveling and performing a wide range of music.  In 2000 he met his musically-talented wife, Stacey, who would later become a part of the Potter musical family.  In 2007, Orion was invited to sing not once – but three times at the legendary Apollo Theatre in New York City.

Stacey believes in audience participation!
In 2005, Natana and WoAbba formed the "Potter Sisters" duo and were nominated at the Canadian Country Music Association for "Duo of the Year." 

While we don't know the exact date that the "Potter Family," as we know it today, was formed.  Likely within the last decade.  

What we do know is that they are a professional troupe that works hard at what they do – and we are blessed that they're based in "our neck of the woods."  Their offerings of music from the 1950s and 1960s, a nice blending of country and classics, and a fervent touch of patriotic tunes, makes their performances a nice fit for those of us in the American heartland.

Thanks to the High Plains Western Heritage Center for serving as the impetus for what was an impressive afternoon.   Colonel Kain rightly recognized HPWHC's Director Karla Scovell as the driving force behind this stirring event.  Of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't acknowledge sponsors who helped finance, organize, and execute this tribute to Veterans.  They included First Interstate Bank of Spearfish; Spearfish VFW Post 5860 Auxiliary; Safeway; Spearfish American Legion Auxiliary, Connie White, and Northern Hills Golf Carts of Spearfish   The Color Guard helped all of us remember just why we had gathered, and who we were honoring – our Veterans.

We know of few institutions that work any harder than the Western Heritage Center to preserve and share area history, while also working hand-in-hand with other organizations toward things that benefit the community.  All $1,282 the donations received from the audience at this performance go directly to support the Spearfish Veterans Monument.

The Potter Family will be returning Spearfish on Friday, November 30th for "The Potter Family Christmas Concert."  You won't want to miss it.  It's the annual "Friendraiser," benefitting the High Plains Western Heritage Center.  

A Social Hour with Hors d'oeuvres from Cheyenne Crossing and Perkins starts at 5:30 p.m.  The Christmas Concert begins at 7:00 p.m.  We understand that reservations are required, so make plans early to attend – that's less than three weeks off!  Tickets are $40 per person, but we think you'll find it worth every cent!

Saturday, November 10, 2018

George Blair – a B-25 Pilot – remembers World War Two

(Editors Note:  With Veterans Day upon us, we'd like to re-visit a story we posted two years ago about area veteran George Blair, well known by many across the region.  Thanks to Duke Doering for sharing it.  ~~ Larry Miller)

by Duke Doering

Writing in a long-ago declassified report, an officer from Sturgis rancher George Blair’s World War II Air Corps Squadron described enemy response as “…meager inaccurate to accurate fire…”

On March 28, 71 years ago, Japanese machine gunners were “accurate” enough to cripple Blair’s B-25J medium bomber, put the 10-ton airplane into ocean off Indo China (today’s Vietnam) and compel Blair to generate a vision of his girlfriend that prevented him from drowning.

As South Dakotans join others across the nation to celebrate Veterans Day, the re-telling of Blair’s Army Air Corps service in the Pacific Theater reminds everyone how the skill, bravery and sometimes luck of this veteran contributed to victory against Axis forces.  Part of the 16 million men and women who served in uniform during that war, Blair also is symbolic of the countless veterans who returned to civilian life to marry, raise a family, be successful in a career and continue to serve, in Blair’s case with four terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives.

Blair was born in 1921 in Pleasant Valley, six miles south and east of Sturgis.  Learning in a one-room school, graduation from Sturgis High School in 1939 and work on a busy family cattle ranch were predictable milestones in his life until the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.  From that point, Blair wanted to support the war effort as a pilot.  However, to be accepted as a flying cadet during the start of the war, at least two years of college had to be part of a volunteer’s academic resume, something Blair lacked.

So Blair traveled to Spearfish and talked with already legendary aviator Clyde Ice.  The largely self-taught barnstormer, air transporter and flight instructor advised Blair to ignore the two-year college requirement because the military would soon be unable to recruit enough pre-qualified potential pilots.  To enhance his eligibility for selection, Ice recommended immediate enrollment in classes at Black Hills Teachers College plus simultaneous evening courses in ground school.  Along with classroom instruction, Ice could provide flying lessons in his two-seat Aeronca.  By March 1942, Blair was in class with nine other College Training Program students and in the air over the Black Hills and surrounding prairie.  Blair also started a courtship with Viola Hays, a college algebra classmate.

Next came extensive physical, mental and psychological testing.  In May, Blair was sworn into the Army Air Corps.  Learning the rudiments of being a soldier-airman followed at Randolph Field, Texas, where Blair was accepted into flight training in October.  His military flight school began at the dual controls of the Stearman Kaydet bi-plane, followed by a second phase in the more powerful and complex BT-13A, the Vulcan Valiant, also nicknamed “The Vibrator” for its ability to shake aviators’ bones plus the nuts and bolts that held everything together.

Commissioned as a 2nd Lt., and wearing hard-earned flight wings in August 1943,  Blair wanted an assignment with the B-25 medium bomber in honor and respect for Lt. Col. “Jimmy” Doolittle, the leader of the nicknamed Raiders who completed a daring bombing mission over Japan in April of 1942, flying the versatile twin-engine plane from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Hornet.  Just 16 months after joining the military, one of the Air Corps’ newest pilots and former rancher got his wish.  McClellan Army Airfield in northern California was Blair’s next duty station where he learned the fundamentals of operating the B-25, the winged workhorse that the nation’s aircraft industry eventually duplicated in several variants more than 9,800 times.

During night training missions, Blair and fellow students sometimes flew over Los Angeles where intense spotlights constantly scanned the skies.  Blair still remembers getting “great advice” from instructors who cautioned the students to ignore the searing lights by looking down at the instrument panel and never outside.

Once qualified in the B-25, Blair was transferred across country to Columbia, S.C., for six months of additional flight training.  By April 1944, Blair was cleared to join an operational bomber unit.  He became part of three crews that flew shiny B-25s from a base in Savannah, Ga., back to his bomber starting point in California.  The crews remained there for a week preparing for an island-hopping journey to Hawaii, Christmas Island, Guadalcanal and, eventually, a maintenance facility at Townsville, Australia, where the aircraft were painted in combat colors and retrofitted with newer machine guns.  The first tactical duty station for the newly qualified aircrews became Biak, New Guinea, where Blair and his colleagues learned the fundamentals of in-theater operations and launched their first combat mission against a Japanese airfield.

All returned unscathed from their first taste of battle.  Blair still can recall, “While we were dropping the bombs, I noticed some black spots occasionally appearing in front of me.  It took a few seconds, and suddenly I realized they were shooting at me.”  For nearly a year, he flew 46 more combat missions with the 501st “Black Panthers” Squadron of the 345th Bombardment Group, moving operational bases closer and closer toward Japan.

On March 28, 1945, Blair was part of a large mission that involved aircraft from all four of the Bomb Group’s squadrons.  In his routine report,  1st Lt. Issac Baker, the squadron’s assistant intelligence officer, wrote the primary target for that day was to intercept a shipping convoy that had been sighted moving north in the Indo China Sea, with a secondary target of any land installation on the coast. By the time Group leaders got the formation over the anticipated ocean target area, no ships could be found.

They turned inland, with Black Panther aircraft assigned to sweep 60 miles of coastline from Phan Thiet to Phan Rang.  Three flights of B-25Js found the My Thanh rail yard, dropping 27 bombs at maximum speed from very low altitudes and strafing the area with .50-caliber machine gun fire.  Return fire from the defenders was not heavy, but it was enough to create a crippling oil leak in the starboard engine of Blair’s plane and pepper another Black Panther aircraft with holes.
Blair made a quick decision to shut down the 14-cylinder Wright Cyclone engine and “feather” its propeller to avoid further damage.  Flying 15 more miles back to the mainland became a swiftly discarded option.  If they landed safely, all would immediately become prisoners of war.  Ditching at sea or landing on an unoccupied island were alternatives, with the more realistic hope that a U.S. submarine would be in the area to provide rescue.

Writing a summary of the attack the next day, Baker tersely described the few known details: “Plane 175 (Blair’s plane), hit by ack ack was forced to go on a single engine and when last seen was flying on a single engine at 1,230/I [altitude] 15 miles off Cape Faux Varella on a 102 degree course.  Pilot radioed squadron leader that everything was under control and he was trying to make it to Two Island.”  He then goes on to identify Blair and five additional crewmen as “missing.”

What Baker did not know or did not report was the tense radio traffic drama in the sky in the minutes after Blair’s bomber received enemy fire.  The leader of a different Black Panther flight quickly learned that Blair’s aircraft was in trouble and radioed the surfaced submarine U.S.S. Guavina that was patrolling in the area.  Blair started transmitting a “Blue Fish, this is Blue Flyer,” message to contact the sub.  The Guavina’s signalman then provided its location to Blair on the radio frequency his crew was monitoring.  Ditching at sea, as close to the 311 ft. vessel as possible, became Blair’s best option.  “We never had any practice ditching an airplane,” the longtime rancher ironically recalls, a maneuver impossible to rehearse with a land-based aircraft.

As the bomber started skipping across the ocean waves, Blair hit his head on a gunsight and was knocked unconscious.  The plane settled into the water and temporarily remained afloat, an unconventional landing that Blair says was, “more luck than skill.”
Within minutes, Blair regained consciousness and joined the other crewmen who were able to escape from the soon-to-sink aircraft.  Blair was on the wing of the plane for a few moments before it went under, struggling to inflate both sides of his life jacket.  Just half of the jacket filled, a perilous circumstance that nearly killed Blair as he fought “to get in sync” with the 10-foot swells that covered the airplane as it went to the floor of the Pacific Ocean.  Tailgunner Staff Sgt. J.R. Richardson made it out of the fuselage but told a crewmate that he could not swim and was not seen again.

Wave after wave covered Blair’s half-supported body each time he tried to breathe.  Exhausted, Blair remembers thinking, “just quit.”  He laid in the water, ready to surrender, “when, I looked up in the sky and saw my girlfriend - in color - just her shoulder and her head.   I thought, if I am ever going to see her again, I better start fighting for my life.”

Still struggling, Blair estimates no more than two minutes later, a crewman from the Navy sub was in the water next to him with rope that pulled them both to the safety of the boat. Others who survived included the co-pilot, navigator, engineer and radio operator.  The sub buttoned up and headed east for San Marcelino, Philippines, the home base of the 345th Group where Blair continued to heal from the 13 stitches he received to close the gash on his head.

The attack on the rail yard became Blair’s last combat mission.  By then he had exceeded the 100 points necessary for departure from the front lines of the war in the Pacific.  Back home in Meade County, discharged from the Air Corps and married to his “vision” girlfriend Viola Marie.  

Members of the Blair family are shown in this 1995 family photo.
Left-to-right are:  Gayle, Mary Beth, Nancy, Jerry, George and Viola, Jeff, Kathleen, Janet, and Ann.

The couple soon was busy with post-war life, eventually raising nine children and managing the ranch.  Viola passed away in 2002, just a few months before Blair was honored to receive a belated Purple Heart medal during a surprise, family arranged ceremony.  Blair, now 95, continues to live on his ranch in Pleasant Valley.

(Editor's note:  Our thanks to Duke Doering 
[shown at right] for sharing this fine story
 and associated photographs.  You can take a look at
 all photos related to this story