While a cold, wintry rain fell on Mitchell Thursday morning, a large group gathered inside the Corn Palace to say farewell to a beloved local state lawmaker and community booster, warmed by the love and memories for a man who served the local community for much of his life.

The funeral for Lance Carson drew many friends, supporters and family members to remember and celebrate the life of a man who throughout his life gave of himself to the state of South Dakota as a state legislator for 10 years and the Mitchell community. Carson died on Oct. 14 at age 74 after battling COVID-19.

“There is a time to be born, a time to die. A time to mourn, and a time for joy,” said Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell, who officiated the service. “Certainly this is where we are today as we celebrate Lance. Each season of life teaches us to find joy in the ordinary moments and seasons.”

Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell presides over the funeral for Lance Carson, the former South Dakota state legislator, on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell presides over the funeral for Lance Carson, the former South Dakota state legislator, on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

The mix of emotions reflect the tumultuous times of the last several months. The year 2020 has been one of uncertainty and apprehension, Wellsandt-Zell said.

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“The same can be said about all the changes through life as well. You find there are so many emotions and experiences at various times that it is a natural part of life,” she said.

While the loss of Carson is a time that will certainly elicit lament from those who knew and loved him, she encouraged those in attendance to remember God’s wishes for the people. It is important to remember that there is joy in his memory and the works and deeds he did during his time in life.

“You find there are so many emotions and experiences at various times in life. It is a natural part of life. God breathes into us through the spirit and all parts of our lives. It is God’s desire that we have a life that is abundant and full, no matter what season we’re in. It is also God’s desire that we be in a state of joy,” said Wellsandt-Zell. “We lament the death of Lance and all he was to each of us in our lives. Yet, in the same breath, we find joy and give thanks for all that he shared in his life with us.”

Several members of the public and family spoke about their experiences with Carson, a man many called a cherished friend and mentor. Many spoke to his affinity for pranks and his love of taking friends and family hunting, where he spent more time worrying about his friends having a good hunt rather than himself.

Dave Sietsema, who worked with Carson on the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, said Carson was a wonderful combination of the characteristics speakers had been praising during the service.

Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell presides over the funeral for Lance Carson, the former South Dakota state legislator, on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
Pastor Rhonda Wellsandt-Zell presides over the funeral for Lance Carson, the former South Dakota state legislator, on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

“There are a lot of funny (stories) I could tell, a few I shouldn’t tell and a few I won’t tell. But Lance is a bit of a rare breed, as we all know. People come into our lives. Sometimes for a moment, a minute or a lifetime,” Sietsema said. “And I think Lance was one of those rare personalities that each and every one of us can say was in our life for a lifetime.”

He strongly believed Carson truly cared for those in his life, whether it be family, acquaintances or District 20 constituents.

“I also want to speak to how much Lance loved each and every one of us, and the time he had to give to you and me. Those are the things I’ll miss,” Sietsema said.

He thanked Carson’s wife, Donna, for graciously sharing her husband with friends, coworkers and colleagues in Mitchell and beyond.

“Our hearts are with you, our prayers and our memories and laughter. Thank you for sharing him so many nights and afternoons with all the rest of us,” Sietsema said. “I’m sure that this community will spend years trying to honor his legacy and the change he affected here in the community, but let’s not forget how much he loved each and every person here.”

Carson was a well-known personality in and around the Mitchell community due to his engaging character and his involvement in numerous public and civic organizations and projects.

He was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 2007, serving eight years as a representative for District 20, which covers Jerauld, Davison and Aurora counties. After being term-limited, he returned for another term in 2017.

A table filled with items as a memorial to Lance Carson was set up in the lobby during a funeral for the former South Dakota state legislator on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)
A table filled with items as a memorial to Lance Carson was set up in the lobby during a funeral for the former South Dakota state legislator on Thursday morning at the Corn Palace in Mitchell. (Matt Gade / Republic)

A native of Nunda, Carson graduated from Rutland High School and Southern State Teachers College in Springfield. Carson served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War. He purchased a gas station and auto repair shop in Brookings when he returned from the war. Later, in 1979, he and his wife, Donna, moved to Mitchell and opened Lance’s Interstate Amoco, which he operated for 25 years.

Carson had fought health issues throughout his life, including multiple heart attacks, the first occurring at age 38 and later wore a heart pump around his waist. He missed time in legislative sessions dealing with a blood infection in 2013 and overcame influenza and pneumonia in 2017, including a period when he said he was on life support and lost 25 pounds.

He also served on a variety of boards and committees in the community, most notably involving rodeo, including chairman of the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo as well as the board for the Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo and the South Dakota State Fair Commission.

The Mitchell Exchange Club and local Boy Scout troops organized to have American flags displayed around Mitchell on Thursday in memory of the Vietnam War veteran Carson. Gov. Kristi Noem also ordered flags at the state capitol to fly half-staff from sunrise to sundown Thursday in honor of Carson.