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MERCER: South Dakota is a bit poorer after my neighbor left

PIERRE -- About a week ago, I paid $50 to Tom Magedanz for his lawnmower. From my perspective, it wasn't enough.

He asked what he thought was fair. In the 25-some years I knew Tom, that's how he always was -- and likely always will be.

Tom and Lita were our backyard neighbors. A few days ago, they left for Dubuque, Iowa, and a new start.

They hadn't planned to move so soon after Tom's retirement in June.

The house across the street sold in about a year. Always prudent, Tom figured, why wait to list their house?

It sold in two days.

Dubuque? Tom said the area always interested him. They will be closer to their children.

Charlie and his family are in Des Moines. Steph is in Duluth.

Tom lived quite a life. He worked for the public and loved his family and played or managed (or both) a lot of baseball.

We played softball together for a few years. Players on younger teams sometimes laughed about Tom out there at shortstop or second base.

That is, until they saw "that old guy" make hard plays easy. He took away a big slice of the infield. At bat he didn't swing for the fence. He went up looking to get on, so other hitters could drive him in.

For many years, Tom played for and managed the Pierre Rattlers amateur baseball team.

It's questionable whether Pierre would still have the Rattlers but for Tom. His effort also meant other cities had a team to face in Pierre.

Tom was a student at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in 1967 and '68 when the nation called. He became a U.S. Marine and went to Vietnam in 1969 and 1970. He was a rifleman and squad leader in the 1st Marine Division.

He didn't talk about it to us.

The first I knew was seeing his picture, among the rows of similar portraits, on the wall showing the commanders at American Legion Post 8 in Pierre.

I think he can still fit in his uniform.

When he came home from war he enrolled at the University of South Dakota and earned a bachelor's degree in history and political science.

From there, he taught U.S. history and government for a few years at LeMars Gehlen High School in Iowa.

Then he returned to USD for a master's degree in public administration.

The next step was joining the Peace Corps as a volunteer. He went to Philippines from 1979 through 1982.

South Dakota called again. He moved to Pierre in 1982 to work as a policy analyst for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. In 1988, he took a job with the state Legislative Research Council, the non-partisan professional staff for the Legislature.

Quiet, efficient, smart, he wrote many dozens of laws and many hundreds of pieces of legislation at LRC, and many research papers.

Somehow, there wasn't a legislative resolution or executive proclamation recognizing Tom Magedanz before he and Lita left.

He wasn't the kind of guy who needed one.

But he deserves thanks.