Abdnor remembered at funeral as ‘the real deal’PIERRE — Sen. John Thune said Saturday his life changed when the late Sen. Jim Abdnor took him under his wing, gave him a job and inspired him to enter public service.
By: CHET BROKAW , The Associated Press
PIERRE — Sen. John Thune said Saturday his life changed when the late Sen. Jim Abdnor took him under his wing, gave him a job and inspired him to enter public service.
Abdnor prompted many people, including the young people he hired and mentored, to value loyalty and integrity, Thune said in his eulogy at Abdnor’s funeral. About 250 people attended the service, which was held in a church just across the street from the South Dakota Capitol building.
“If it wasn’t for Jim Abdnor, there’s no way I could be doing what I’m doing today,” said Thune, who is now in his second term in the U.S. Senate.
Abdnor died Wednesday of natural causes after suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for the past two years. He was 89.
Abdnor was best known nationally as the South Dakota Republican who ousted Democratic Sen. George McGovern from the Senate in 1980.
But those who spoke Saturday cast Abdnor as a humble man who loved talking with people, serving as a mentor and adopting them into what was seen as an extended family.
“Jim Abdnor was the real deal,” Thune said. “He treated the guy who cleaned his office the same way he treated the president of the United States.”
Abdnor was born in 1923, the son of Lebanese immigrants. He farmed near Kennebec, taught school and coached before serving six terms in the state Legislature and one term as lieutenant governor.
He won four terms in the U.S. House before defeating McGovern, the 1972 Democratic presidential candidate, in 1980. When Abdnor sought re-election to the Senate in 1986, he survived a bruising Republican primary challenge from then-Gov. Bill Janklow, but he was defeated in the general election by then-U.S. Rep. Tom Daschle.
Saturday’s funeral was attended by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, Republican Rep. Kristi Noem, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, former Govs. Mike Rounds and Walter Dale Miller and many elected officials from South Dakota.
The 90-minute funeral drew tears and laughter as friends and relatives told stories about Abdnor’s legendary bad driving, good dancing and ability to strike up a conversation anywhere — coffee shops, streets and sporting events.
Herb Sundall, a longtime friend of Abdnor’s from Kennebec, said Abdnor was never known as a great public speaker, but could win someone’s vote after a brief conversation.
“There were better speakers, better orators, but one-on-one nobody was ever better,” Sundall said.
Abdnor never married and never had children of his own, but he was close to his nephews and nieces. One nephew, also named Jim Abdnor, said the former senator taught his relatives how to drive and amazed them with his ability to dance all night.
“He was everybody’s favorite uncle,” the nephew said.
Bishop David Zellmer, head of the South Dakota Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, delivered the sermon. He said Abdnor was rooted in the state, its people, his family and his faith.
“We are better people, a better state” because of Abdnor, Zellmer said.
Sen. John Thune tells the story of how he and former Sen. James Abdnor met following a high school basketball game while delivering the eulogy during the late senator’s funeral Saturday in Pierre.