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OPINION: McGovern's last appearance a memorable one

On Oct. 6, Deanna was given two tickets to the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra's 90th anniversary concert in Sioux Falls, which had as its special guest George McGovern, who also was still celebrating his 90th.

As a portion of the program, McGovern was to give a narration on his recent book "Abraham Lincoln." Originally, he intended to do it in person, on stage, but his health did not cooperate.

McGovern did appear on the stage and spoke to the full house and received two standing ovations. Then the recorded narration was played to a hushed and appreciative audience.

After the program, Deanna and I wandered about greeting some acquaintances, including Monsignor Jim Doyle, who would later speak at both of McGovern's services. Then just before we left, we entered the concert hall again and George McGovern was still there.

We waited a few minutes and then we got to greet him. He was so alert and happy. George told us he had moved from his home at Dakota Wesleyan University. Deanna mentioned that he had been at our home four years before when Obama won the last primaries.

George remembered that well, but said he moved to Sioux Falls to be closer to his family and his doctors. George told us his grandson, Matt, was running for election to the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission and asked us to vote for him. Those few words turned out to be his last campaign speech. Then grandson Matt took George by the arm and took him home. That evening was his last public appearance.

Just days later, the announcement was made that George was in hospice, nearing the end of his life. Soon becoming comatose, George McGovern slipped away to belong to the ages.

At the prayer service at First Methodist Church in Sioux Falls, I had a center aisle seat with Deanna next to me. We were in the fourth row from the altar.

We went several hours early to get that favored spot. Secret Service was there, but I moved across the aisle to greet Ann and Susan McGovern and then I shook Vice President Joe Biden's hand as he walked down the aisle and out of the church.

The next day we returned to Sioux Falls and attended the funeral held at the Washington Pavilion in the very same Mary Sommervold Hall.

We were told by DWU President Bob Duffett that as George sat there after the concert he said, "I want my funeral to be held here, but not for 10 years." It was only 20 days later.

The South Dakota Symphony String Quartet provided beautiful music. U.S. District Judge Karen Schreier, who was a page in the South Dakota Senate when I was there, invited us to sit right by the seats reserved for dignitaries.

A few minutes later a man squeezed by to take his seat in our row and I said, "Welcome, Sen. Kerry from Massachusetts." He was accompanied by Sen. Dick Durbin and former Vice President Walter Mondale. We sat just behind former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds and present Gov. Dennis Daugaard. Deanna visited briefly with Rounds.

After the two-plus-hour celebration of George McGovern's, life we returned to Mitchell, tired but feeling so fortunate that we had those special contacts which would never happen again.

Rod Hall, of Mitchell, is a former legislator and school board member.