AVON - With November midterm elections around the corner, it was only fitting to celebrate the late George McGovern and his political legacy in the small town where it all began.
The first and only native South Dakota-born presidential candidate to win a primary election and represent the Democratic party united a group of proud South Dakotans on Saturday evening in honor of McGovern at his monument in Avon, where McGovern was born and raised.
"George McGovern was a man who believed that we the people represent this country, and not a particular political group," said Aaron Matson, the Democratic party communications director and state treasurer candidate in the upcoming midterm election.
The rededication event kicked off with a casual dinner at the Avon City Park under a gazebo with tables full of barbecue ribs, roasted chicken and friendly smiles.
Following Matson's brief speech, Tom Cool, a Democratic candidate vying to become the state auditor after the November 6 midterm election, said McGovern helped inspire him to represent the people of South Dakota with honest, transparent government.
Although Attorney General candidate Randy Seiler, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Billie Sutton and state Democratic congressional candidate Tim Bjorkman were unable to attend the ceremony, they each found a way to show their honor for an icon whom they looked up to as a pioneer for the state.
"Randy has dedicated his life to public service, and that dedication to public service began when he was a young man and volunteered himself to McGovern's campaign," said Tegan McNary, a senior political science major at the University of South Dakota and campaign manager for Seiler.
Along with representing Seiler, McNary spoke on behalf of Sutton as well.
"I can't think of a man who epitomizes our shared values of honesty, integrity and hard work more than Senator McGovern. Senator McGovern was so successful because he brought people around those shared values toward a common goal of bettering the lives of South Dakotans," McNary said.
Upon graduating high school, McGovern volunteered and served in our nation's armed forces as a pilot, fighting fascism in German-occupied Europe, where he went on to earn medals of honor after the end of World War II.
Following his loyal military service, McGovern attended Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell. He would go on to receive his doctorate in history at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, which he used to come right back to Mitchell and teach at the college that helped build McGovern's foundation of educational values.
"McGovern's love for his South Dakota roots inspires all of us. As we watched Senator McGovern rely on his intelligence and caring heart to rise from tiny Avon to becoming the Democratic presidential candidate in 1972, he represented our state with tremendous honor," said Frank Kloucek, a former state legislator and Tyndall native who was speaking on behalf of Bjorkman.
McGovern began his political career while living in Mitchell, teaching as a history professor at DWU, where he won his first election as the state's Democratic candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in 1956. He would go on to serve three terms as a U.S. Senator, in 1962, '68, and '74, representing South Dakota and the shared values that helped build the character of the state's pioneer of politics.
Given the storied success that McGovern produced serving the public as a politician, he put his hat in the ring to become the state's first presidential candidate in the 1972 election against Richard Nixon, where he was defeated.
In the midst of the Vietnam War, McGovern ran his campaign on a platform of peace, and said war should be the very last resort, according to Kloucek.