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Corn Palace brings in more decorators, helping make up weather delays

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Jeff Hanson, Corn Palace maintenance supervisor and lead decorator, right, nails corn on the front mural with decorator Austin Kleinsasser, left, on Wednesday at the Corn Palace.

The wet weather the city of Mitchell has experienced this year has added a few challenges to the Corn Palace decorating process.

While the 12 color variations of corn that are neatly arranged on the murals of Mitchell’s biggest tourist attraction have been harvested nearly a month later than usual, the addition of part-time decorators on a second shift is expected to help complete the murals by the desired Thanksgiving Day.

“Usually we get our corn around Sept. 1, but nearly every crop in the area has been affected and will likely be harvested later due to the wet year,” said Jeff Hanson, Corn Palace maintenance supervisor and head decorator. “Adding six staff members to our decorating crew has really helped, and we should be able to get our murals done by the end of November, weather permitting of course.”

The six part-time corn decorators are primarily made up of Mitchell Technical Institute and Dakota Wesleyan University students, Hanson said. The five day-time Corn Palace decorators begin their shift in the early morning hours and wrap up around 2 to 3 p.m.

As soon as the day crew concludes their shift, Hanson said the second team of decorators pick up where the first shift left off, working until dusk. Considering the two murals on the front side of the building were enlarged as part of the 2015 renovation project, Hanson said decorating the front of the building is the most time consuming.

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“It takes about 12 days to complete each of the two big murals on the front, while it takes roughly 7 1/2 days for the five small murals. We have a solid group of experienced decorators,” Hanson said.

Austin Kleinsasser, a full-time decorator who works the day shift, said additional Corn Palace decorating staff have been vital this year, given the weather woes delaying the corn harvest.

“We had a smooth system going, and we should be able to get done a little faster now that we have the extra help,” said Kleinsasser, in between hanging rows of corn on the large mural that overlooks Main Street. “I help teach some of the new decorators how to hang the corn, so we get them experienced to take care of business in the evening.”

Considering the wet year, Hanson frequently communicates with the Corn Palace's grower to make sure the color variations of corn are on pace to be harvested. Although Hanson said the Corn Palace decorators received their first batch of corn toward the last week of September, it has already been used to complete one full mural of Crazy Horse on the front of the building.

Thankfully, there is enough color variations of corn that will be harvested to complete all nine murals that were designed by DWU art students.

“We had a meeting this year discussing if we were going to be able to change the murals and decorate them with new corn,” Hanson said.

Of course, there have been years when the murals stayed in place. In 2007, Hanson said, corn that was supposed to be affixed to the Corn Palace was flooded out during the summer, leading to the same murals for two consecutive years. In 2016, Mitchell didn't change the murals in a cost-saving effort, leaving the murals in place for an extra year.

While he’s grateful to have had adequate corn, plants and hay for decorating the Corn Palace this year, Hanson said a small portion of Mitchell’s main tourist attraction will be without rye. Because of the wet planting and growing season, Hanson said the farmer who provides the rye was unable to grow the plants due to extreme moisture.

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“It rained about every three days it seemed all summer, and our farmer found another field where he knew of some rye, but it too ended up getting flooded out,” Hanson said. “We’re going to fill the bare rye areas with colored corn, which will actually look nice.”

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Seasonal Corn Palace decorator Brandon Boyer cuts corncobs with his saw Wednesday at the Corn Palace. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Sam Fosness joined the Mitchell Republic in May 2018. He was raised in Mitchell, S.D., and graduated from Mitchell High School. He continued his education at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, where he graduated in 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in English. During his time in college, Fosness worked as a news and sports reporter for The Volante newspaper.
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