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Family dedicates benches to amateur baseball parks in former umpire's honor

Family members of Dean Luikens pose for a photo with the dedicated blue bench Tuesday at the Class B state amateur baseball tournament. Family members include, in front from left, Mary Ellen and Emily Luikens. In the second row are Dianne, Samantha and Clarice Thyen, Chris Noem, Sharon and Sara Thyen. In the back row are Ron Thyen, Jeremy and Chad Noem and Tom Berg. Not pictured are Al and Sharon Noem and Michael Thyen. (Eric Mayer/Republic)

For 37 summers, Dean Luikens spent many hours behind home plate umpiring baseball games at all levels across South Dakota.

In the summer of 2013, Luikens was no longer calling balls and strikes as he died from Myelofibrosis, a form of leukemia.

This summer, Dean's wife, Mary Ellen, of Scotland, and daughter, Emily, have traveled to 14 different baseball parks in the region donating blue benches in his honor.

"There is a part of him in ballparks that he umpired in," Mary Ellen said. "We've got a little Dean in every ballpark."

During the break in between Tuesday's South Dakota Class B state amateur baseball games in Mitchell, Dean's family donated a bench to Cadwell Park, the South Dakota Umpires Association, the South Dakota Amateur Baseball Association and the baseball teams and umpires who participate in the state amateur baseball tournament in Dean's memory.

Mary Ellen said Dean used to ump over 200 contests during the summer, and she remembers him always being on the road trying to get to ball games.

"We've really had a fun summer doing this," Mary Ellen said, adding players would come tell her stories about Dean before or after games. "Meeting the people he knew and the respect they had for him just warmed our hearts."

"They hated his low strikes," Emily said about what she learned about her father over the summer. "When players or coaches used to yell at him, I'd say stop yelling at my daddy."

The bench is painted blue and represents "Blue," a title many umpires are often called. Luikens was an umpire at the state amateur tournament for many years and always spoke highly of everyone involved in organizing the state tournament in Mitchell, according to Mary Ellen.

She said the idea to donate benches to baseball parks in Dean's memory first started with her local 4-H club donating benches for a community project.

"We delivered 14 benches to ballparks all summer long," Mary Ellen said. "We've been everywhere from Wynot, Neb., Yankton, Scotland, Tabor, Menno, Freeman, Tripp, Lesterville, Delmont, Irene, Parkston, Emery, Dimock and finally Mitchell."

Luikens said she will make a trip to Crofton, Neb., next summer to donate the final bench because of a schedule change this year, and hopes to continue to follow South Dakota amateur baseball in future summers.