MERCER: Doland claims Hubert Humphrey, South Dakota's biggest politicianPIERRE — August is when many a son or daughter says goodbye and moves from home. And for many a mother or father, it is a month when moments of sadness mix among the excitement and so much great hope.
PIERRE — August is when many a son or daughter says goodbye and moves from home. And for many a mother or father, it is a month when moments of sadness mix among the excitement and so much great hope.
We know of one young man and his parents who went through it three different times.
The first time, his dad drove him to college 300 miles away and told the young man he was now on his own.
For the next eight years the young man was pulled back and forth.
There was the life he always knew, working for his father behind the counter at the family store. And there was the life he dreamed about — places far away where he would do great things.
Finally, no more could he only dream. On the third try, he left South Dakota, for good.
That was back in 1937. When Hubert H. Humphrey left he was part of the giant out-migration that sucked so much good life out of South Dakota.
The exodus during the Depression cut so deep. It took until 1990 for our state’s population to get back to 1930.
In leaving, however, the young man and his new wife found the opportunities they didn’t see here.
He would rise to become a popular professor of political science, then a mayor of Minneapolis. From there, he was a creator of the modern Democrat-Farmer-Labor party that came to be a force in Minnesota politics.
He personally became a counter-force that helped stem the very real influx of Communism into many labor organizations. He spoke out on the national stage for the advancement of civil rights.
He won election as a U.S. senator for Minnesota. He served four years as a vice president for the nation. He was a Democratic nominee for U.S. president in 1968 and narrowly lost.
By those accomplishments Humphrey was the biggest politician South Dakota ever produced.
But he didn’t do it here.
This past week a new 750-pound bronze statue of Humphrey was moved into place on the Minnesota Capitol’s grounds in St. Paul.
In South Dakota the most recognition is a memorial stretch of S.D. Highway 37 with a faded sign. We somehow blinked in 2011 regarding the centennial of his birth.
It is hard to image the dreams already in the mind of young Hubert H. Humphrey when he graduated high school at Doland in 1929.
That summer he left for the University of Minnesota, only to return for financial reasons two years later.
He couldn’t support himself well enough to stay in school. The family couldn’t afford to have two boys in college at once. So Hubert came home to work for his dad.
Hubert’s father, for whom he was named, and from whom he learned so much of his politics, ran drug stores.
There were four moves through the years, each in a different town, each move forced by economic necessity, each a chapter in the Humphrey family’s life.
Hubert senior met the woman who would become his wife, Christine Sannes, in Lily where he briefly ran his first store. They married in 1906.
Today a small white sign cryptically marks the empty corner lot where the store had stood.
To understand its meaning you must know the Humphrey story. The pavement ends not long after you reach Lily.
Young Hubert wasn’t born there. His birth came atop the next Humphrey drugstore, after the family had moved to better prospects at Wallace.
In the community’s beautiful park there is a signboard erected during the 1989 era of our statehood centennial. The sign proclaims Wallace as the birth place.
That seems to be it, though. There’s nothing on the highway about Humphrey that would give travelers a reason to stop. Nor is there anything obvious in town that shows where the drugstore was or tells the story of a life that began at Wallace in 1911.
The Humphrey store at Wallace wasn’t a success. The next try came in Doland.
Let it be said Doland most and best claims Humphrey as its boy. The main street through downtown is named for him. So is the school auditorium.
There is a park with a beautiful pair of memorials for Humphrey and for the community’s Olympic wrestlers, Dennis and Duane Koslowski.
Hubert senior didn’t succeed in Doland, either. The family lost its house. The Humphreys moved to Huron, where he opened his fourth store.
After young Hubert came home from the University to Minnesota, it was in Huron where he met his wife-to-be, Muriel. They married, and they set off to pharmacy school where he completed formal training.
The Humphrey store on Dakota Avenue is still open in Huron. But making a life there wasn’t to be for Hubert and Muriel.
They tried hard. But in 1936, Hubert senior was elected to the Legislature. While his son tended the store, Hubert senior spent the first three months of 1937 in Pierre, as a member of the state House of Representatives.
A turning point came in the lives of both men. After Hubert senior returned to Huron that spring, the son took the father aside for a talk.
The time had come. The young man felt he needed to leave the family business.
He wanted to return to college and, with his new wife, pursue his own dreams of a life in politics, rather than run a drugstore for a legislator father.
One can only imagine the difficulty of that conversation 75 years ago. That summer, with Muriel alongside, Hubert Humphrey made the drive back to Minneapolis.
So began the trip of a lifetime.