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WOSTER: Loss South Dakota governor's race had big impact

Terry Woster

Carv Thompson only served four years in the South Dakota House of Representatives, but it seems much, much longer than that to me.

Perhaps that's because we were both relatively young then. All the world was new and anything was possible. He was in his first term, a druggist from Faith with curly dark hair and an unlined face, when I showed up in Pierre to cover the Legislature. He probably would have been re-elected many times to the House had he not chosen to run for governor in 1972. He was popular back home. It seemed unlikely that a Republican as active as he was in Faith and Meade County would have lost an election easily at that time.

But he wanted to take another step, so he hopped into the governor's race against popular incumbent Democrat Gov. Dick Kneip. Now, Kneip is one of only two Democrats elected governor in South Dakota between the time of Tom Berry in the 1930s and, well, whenever state voters do it again (the other was Ralph Herseth in 1958). It was an unusual time in South Dakota politics. Kneip won. Carv parked the Winnebago motor home he had used in the "Carv Thompson Family Campaign" and went home to Faith.

When I think of that, which I did recently after I'd done some reminiscing with Carv at the South Dakota Hall of Fame luncheon (he's among this year's crop of inductees), I'm reminded of a scene in "Field of Dreams," the Kevin Costner film about baseball and Iowa cornfields. Costner and James Earl Jones are in Chisholm, Minn., where the Moonlight Graham character played by Burt Lancaster turns down a chance to go play some baseball. He chooses to stay and practice medicine in Chisholm. Costner is amazed and disappointed. Jones says something to the effect that if Graham had become a ballplayer instead of a doctor, it would have made a big difference to the people of Chisholm.

That's a long-winded way to set up this observation: Carv could have been a pretty good governor, I think. But the fact that he didn't win that race and went home? That made a big difference to the people of Faith and the expansive grassland out west of the Missouri River.

He kept the drug store going for years, organized a development corporation that shepherded numerous projects, including an apartment complex, a swimming pool, the Prairie Oasis Mall and others. He was always active in the Faith Stock Show and Rodeo, a huge event that drew some of the top names in country entertainment for most of 30 years. The entertainment came because of Carv, and the Stock Show and Rodeo thrived in large part because he wouldn't think of it going any other way. His talent as a promoter helped land him a spot on the State Fair Board. He served 13 years as chairman and entertainment director.

One spring day several years ago, as I traveled west on stories for the newspaper, I stopped at the drug store in Faith to greet Carv.

"Hey," he said with a big smile, "You want to be on the radio? I'm about to do my show on KBHB, and it's a pretty folksy thing."

We went in a back room at the store, connected by phone with the station in Sturgis, and I answered half a dozen questions about my assignments and my travel plans. Good, down-home stuff, he said.

One of my favorite memories is a gathering, 1989, I think it was, of former legislators for a reception in the state Capitol Rotunda. Gosh, there were a lot of older folks who resembled a bunch of young legislators I'd known many years earlier. Carv was among them, shaking hands, swapping yarns, rekindling the camaraderie that forms when good-hearted people serve together.

I asked him if the event had sparked any thoughts of running for election again.

"You know, seeing all these great people, a fella could start thinking," he said. Then he laughed. "But the last thing Margaret said when she waved me goodbye was, 'Now, Carv, don't you come home with any foolish notions.' I think I'll probably just savor the memories."

I think I will, too.