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MERCER: Fort Sisseton plaques to honor a great pair

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opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
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MERCER: Fort Sisseton plaques to honor a great pair
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- Up in Marshall County is a real stone and wood link to our pioneer past. Fort Sisseton, built in 1864, isn't the most-visited in our state's parks system, but it's certainly important as a symbol from pre-statehood times.


Now Paul Symens, who farms and ranches over Amherst way, is doing his part this fall to have officially recognized the teamwork and friendship by two men of recent times who helped restore the fort to its beautiful current condition.

Last year one half of the job was done, when a bronze plaque was placed at the fort to commemorate the efforts of the late Curt Jones of Britton.

Jones, a Democrat, was 75 when he died on Jan. 20, 2010. He had long ago retired from the Legislature in 1986, after serving 16 years in the state Senate. He had followed the tradition of his father, Art Jones, who had spent a total of 18 years in the Senate.

While Curt was in politics he met a Republican named Bill Janklow.

Curt was a farmer. Janklow was a lawyer who in the late 1960s and early '70s was focused on representing Indian people in legal matters and later on prosecuting Indian people who were accused of committing violence.

In 1974 Janklow was elected as state attorney general. Jones by then was finishing his fourth year as a senator.

They gradually came to deeply respect each other and, after Janklow was elected governor in 1978, they came to know they could count on each other in legislative matters, taking positions on facts without concern about partisanship.

Jones left the Senate in 1986 the same year that Janklow couldn't seek a third consecutive term as governor. That didn't end their relationship, however, and especially not after Janklow won election to a third term in 1994.

In 1997, Janklow appointed Curt Jones to the state Board of Regents, whose members govern South Dakota's public universities and special-needs schools. Jones served until March 2003, after Janklow had finished a fourth term as governor.

Janklow also established something called the Governor's Commission on Fort Sisseton. That was for Curt and the place he so championed.

Through recent decades Fort Sisseton has developed into a community hub for the northeast. There is the annual festival in June, the annual celebration of the Fourth of July, the eight days of theater in July and the special pre-Christmas celebration in December.

Many family events are held there too.

Janklow didn't have any special feelings for Fort Sisseton but his buddy Curt did. That was good enough for Janklow.

He could be that way about places special to South Dakota. He didn't seem to care too much about music outside of early rock'n'roll, but as just one example that didn't stop him from steering plentiful help to Jackie Fuller for her project restoring the Lead opera house.

Earlier this year, Bill Janklow died. While the end came Jan. 12 it wasn't a surprise. And Paul Symens knew what needed to be done.

Paul had become a casual friend and in some ways an ally of Janklow while Paul was a state senator.

Paul, a Democrat, followed Curt Jones in the Senate seat from Marshall County and spent a total of 16 years serving. He had seen the relationship between Curt and Bill.

Paul too sits on the Governor's Commission on Fort Sisseton. Last year, at the urging of Bill Janklow, money was raised to place the plaque for Curt Jones at the fort.

Now Paul Symens is doing the same thing for Bill Janklow.

Paul has set a goal to raise the money in time for an unveiling and public dedication of the Janklow plaque next summer, on June 8, during the annual festival.

Paul is doing it with the blessing of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation. He recently distributed a letter seeking donations of $500, $300 or other amounts.

The Curt Jones plaque was donated. Another $1,925 of memorial funds came in. The money was used for several large doors on the south barracks at the fort site.

The Janklow plaque is estimated to cost $6,200, according to Wayne Winter, director for the parks and wildlife foundation. He said any surplus proceeds would be retained in the fort's foundation account for other uses at the site.

The plaque will be one of several works of art commemorating Bill Janklow.

There will be two official portraits in the state Capitol's gallery of governors: One painting for the first two terms and a second painting representing the third and fourth terms. There will be a statue as part of the Trail of Governors project in Pierre.

Those aren't part of the Fort Sisseton project, however. The plaques of Curt Jones and Bill Janklow will stand for something you don't see recognized much in our state: Two very different people who came together to achieve a greater good for all.

And down deep probably not very different at all.

To send donations, the check can be made to the South Dakota Parks and Wildlife Foundation and sent to the foundation at 523 E. Capitol Avenue, Pierre, S.D., 57501-3182 or sent directly to Paul Symens at 41506 115 St., Amherst, S.D. 57421. Donations also can be made via the Internet at the foundation's web site.