McGovern services have Mitchell connectionsSIOUX FALLS — There was a strong Mitchell presence Thursday at the prayer service for George McGovern.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
SIOUX FALLS — There was a strong Mitchell presence Thursday at the prayer service for George McGovern.
The service and a viewing were held at the First United Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, and a celebration of his life will be at 1 p.m. today at Mary Sommervold Hall in the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science in Sioux Falls.
There was talk of holding both in Mitchell, possibly at the Corn Palace, friends said Thursday. It was a place he visited as a boy and man, and had been the scene of rallies with his friends John and Robert Kennedy.
“We talked about that,” said Dakota Wesleyan University President Robert Duffett. “He loved Mitchell.”
The McGovern family decided to hold the events in Sioux Falls, where he spent his last months and where he died Sunday at 90. But Mitchell ties were apparent during the Thursday afternoon and evening gathering.
The Rev. Robert Ruedebusch helped preside over the prayer service along with Dr. Don Messer and Monsignor James Doyle. Messer is a former DWU president. Ruedebusch is a 1978 DWU graduate who met McGovern three years ago.
While McGovern was a member of the Mitchell First United Methodist Church, he attended services at the Sioux Falls church and talked faith with Ruedebusch in recent years. The pastor also visited McGovern in the Dougherty House Hospice in the final days of McGovern’s life.
“He was a lifelong Methodist,” Ruedebusch said. “I believe the last time he was here was at the installation of the bishop in mid-September.”
He said they discussed life and death, as McGovern, who had faced several health challenges in recent months, was well aware of his mortality.
“We talked a little bit about it,” Ruedebusch said. “We talked about his faith growing up. And we talked about hymns. He loved to talk about that.”
They also sang together.
“Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was a favorite of McGovern’s, the pastor said. It will be performed during the memorial service today.
Don Simmons, director of the DWU McGovern Center, said he and McGovern also discussed life, death and faith over the years. It was something McGovern especially considered after his wife, Eleanor, died in 2007.
The prayer service brought old friends and political allies who packed the church. Some were in dark suits or dresses; others were in blue jeans or casual clothing. All spoke in hushed tones about their memories of the congressman, senator and 1972 Democratic presidential nominee.
Former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and her husband, former Texas Congressman Max Sandlin, were in attendance. Herseth Sandlin took part in the service along with 2010 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Scott Heidepriem, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and Vice President Joe Biden, who served eight years in the Senate with McGovern.
Heidepriem, a Miller native, said while McGovern was known for his liberal politics and loyalty to the Democratic Party, he was not at heart a deeply partisan man. He noted that McGovern attended Sioux Falls Pheasants baseball games with former Sen. Jim Abdnor, the Republican who defeated him in the 1980 Senate election.
“I don’t think that he would fit well in these politically partisan times,” Heidepriem said. “He was just too decent.”
The guests and the McGovern family were greeted at the church by the Patriot Guard Riders, who provide an honor guard for military veterans. They braved brisk conditions to fly flags and open doors for people as a steady stream of mourners came to pay their respects to McGovern.
Becky Ward, of Sioux Falls, was one of the guards who volunteered for the event. Like McGovern, she is a Mitchell native.