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WOSTER: Former lawmakers honored South Dakota

Terry Woster

Early in each session of the South Dakota Legislature, members of the House and Senate pause one afternoon to pay respects to former lawmakers who died during the previous year.

I'll confess that for my first few years as a legislative reporter, I didn't pay much attention to the ceremony, a 15- or 20-minute gathering in the chamber of the House of Representatives held after the official business of the day was complete in each house. I was a terribly young reporter, truly a cub, when I started covering the session 40-some years ago.

The names of the legislators who had passed during the previous year held little significance to me.

I was a student of the Legislature even then, and I read all I could on the history of the place and its actions and decisions. Because of that, I came to recognize many names from the past.

For the most part, though, I recognized them only as names from a history book, not as men and women who had served their constituents and had tried, in most instances, to do the right thing, both for the people in their home district and the rest of the state.

That they sometimes disagreed on the right thing is not surprising. That's how the process works, and the remarkable thing is that usually (not always, of course, but usually) the end product is workable.

If I were completely honest, I would tell you that I rather appreciated the remembrance ceremony because it gave me time to catch up on some other work, not because I attended and reflected on the people being honored.

As the sessions passed and I came to know more and more legislators personally and watched them in the committees and in the chambers, the annual service of respect came to mean more to me.

The list of those who had passed each year began to carry names of those I'd actually known -- first one, maybe two in a year, then three or four. The last few years, it seems, I've had personal remembrances of each of the men and women on the program.

The 2013 remembrance was last Thursday. It hit home even more than some of the past ceremonies, because each of the eight individuals honored was someone I had covered in the Capitol, and all but one was a person I had covered when he was a legislator.

The exception was former U.S. Sen. Jim Abdnor. He served in the Senate, but before I came to Pierre. He was lieutenant governor and presiding over the Senate when I arrived in 1970.

The others -- Leonard E. Andera, of Chamberlain; Eddie Clay, of Hot Springs; Bert Ellingson, of Sisseton; Frank Henderson, of Hill City; Maury LaRue, of Sturgis; George Shanard, of Mitchell; and Burdette Solum, of Watertown -- those were men I saw in action in the House and Senate.

I grew to respect each of those lawmakers for their sincerity, commitment to constituents and affection for their home state.

Each approached the business of lawmaking each in his own way.

Andera was witty in his sincerity, once likening a four-color state-published annual report to "lightning striking the Easter bunny.''

Clay was measured and dignified, even in the late-evening meetings that invited lawmakers to loosen their ties and unbutton their collar buttons.

Ellingson was a soft-spoken, unassuming man whose heart was always there for people to see. Henderson was big and loud with a flair for colorful language and a concern for the little guy.

LaRue was a West River conservative who never left any doubt where he stood on an issue but who listened respectfully to the other guy's argument.

Shanard was a big thinker, with a vision of a better future for South Dakota and the booming voice of an orator.

Solum was a kind-hearted gentleman who focused on efforts to improve his state, not on whether he received credit.

Abdnor? Well, Jim Abdnor was South Dakota.

Remembering those lawmakers and others I knew who have passed, I can't help but feel hopeful about my state.