WOSTER: Shanard memorable for his booming voice and putting knowledge to useGrowing up, I figured anybody who owned a grain elevator was a giant, far beyond the reach of mere mortals. With George Shanard, I was right, and I was wrong.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
Growing up, I figured anybody who owned a grain elevator was a giant, far beyond the reach of mere mortals. With George Shanard, I was right, and I was wrong.
He was a giant, in a way. He built and managed a successful business career, and he fashioned a successful political career. Those are giant accomplishments.
But in my experience, he was never out of reach, not when he owned Shanard’s Elevator in Reliance where my dad had me trucking wheat, and not when he served as leader of the Republican majority in the South Dakota Senate, where I had daily contact with him in my former life as a newspaper reporter who covered the Legislature.
I’m sure he was proud of his accomplishments, but I think his pride stemmed from knowing that those things — the grain elevators in small towns of South Dakota and the legislative service — were significant for his fellow South Dakotans. What he accomplished mattered to him, it seems to me, because it mattered to others, and that isn’t a bad way to be successful. Now that he has passed, I’ll remember him that way.
My earliest memories of George Shanard are of a round-faced man with a deep voice and a booming laugh who happened to be talking with elevator Manager Ab Vehle once when I drove up with a lumbering old grain truck to dump a load of wheat. I know I was naïve and way too much a farm boy for my own good, but in my 14-year-old life it never occurred to me I’d actually see, in person, someone who owned a whole elevator.
Fast forward to 1975. The farm boy has a journalism degree and has covered five sessions of the Legislature when the Mitchell district sends George Shanard to the Senate. He’s still kind of a giant to me, but he treats me as if I’m the old guy and he’s the, well, freshman. He asks questions about the process and the people. He listens to stories about legislators, lobbyists and legislation from the past, and he soaks it all in.
That’s how a person came to be a leader in the days before term limits — by listening and questioning, learning and remembering, and most of all, putting the knowledge to use. Shanard put the knowledge to use. Combined with an outgoing nature and a drive to get things done, it made him a pretty effective lawmaker.
One Shanard memory is from the session in 1976 when lawmakers went two days past scheduled adjournment in a budget fight. It was after midnight the first extra day as I walked through the Senate chamber. I saw Shanard. He had his suit jacket rolled up as a pillow, and he was curled on the carpet, head under his desk, sleeping — with his bow tie neatly in place.
Shanard had a flair for oratory. His voice filled the Senate chamber in almost the way Leroy Hoffman’s used to when the Eureka senator gave a floor speech (Almost in comparison to Hoffman’s voice is a rich compliment, because Hoffman was a world-class opera singer).
Legislative debate can be boring, or it can be entertaining and uplifting. Shanard was always entertaining, often uplifting, never boring. When he and Democrat Sen. Roger McKellips of Alcester led their respective parties in the Senate for some years, their debates were worth charging admission. The best part came after they’d gone back and forth in withering argument, when they’d lean back in their chairs side-by-side and laugh together as they worked on compromises or better language for a piece of legislation. They knew how to be fierce competitors without becoming enemies.
Gov. George Mickelson told me once of sitting in his second-floor office and listening over the intercom to a Shanard floor speech. Shanard was saying Republicans would unite behind a bill that Mickelson knew had the GOP caucus sharply divided.
“I called up to the lieutenant governor’s podium and asked Walt, ‘Can that be true?’ ” Mickelson recalled. “Walt (former Gov. Walt Miller, then presiding over the Senate) whispered, ‘I don’t know, but you’re missing a heck of a speech.’ ”
Since Friday, we’re missing a heck of a speaker.