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Pickstown plans for museum

This historical photo shows an aerial view of Pickstown and its surrounding area, including the Fort Randall Dam. Pickstown, located in southern South Dakota, became a town in 1947 as a government town for the Corps of Engineers employees working on the dam. (Submitted photo)

PICKSTOWN -- Sixty-eight years ago, Lt. Gen. Lewis Pick submitted a plan to Congress to build a series of dams across the Missouri River.

One of those dams includes the Fort Randall Dam in Pickstown, a town named after Pick.

Now, Pickstown alumni and current residents are opening the Pickstown Fort Randall Museum to remember, preserve and share the information about Pick, as well as the town's history.

"Pickstown is very unique," said Guy Rhoades, one of the men leading the museum planning. "[It has] lots more history than many other small towns in South Dakota."

Rhoades, of Fort Meyers, Fla., and Art Trautman, of O'Fallon, Mo., are the two chairmen on the Pickstown Fort Randall Project Committee.

They presented a detailed plan for the museum Monday evening at the Rainbow Room in Pickstown to 17 audience members, including the Pickstown City Council and some town residents.

The council unanimously approved the museum plans. This means the committee and anyone who wishes to help will move forward with the building's restoration, the collecting and organizing of materials, and fundraising.

Rhoades estimated they will need to raise $3,000 to $5,000 to make the museum a reality. He said the money will likely come from school and town alumni, town residents and town businesses.

The museum will be located in a room in the Rainbow Room building, which was once a shopping center. The building is city-owned.

The original idea for the museum began in June 2011, at the last school reunion.

Bob Hegler, class of 1962, said the gatherings are more like town reunions, though.

"The realization I think hit us all that hey, if we want [to save our things], we have to do something," Hegler said.

After that reunion, Hegler said Rhoades and Trautman really started getting serious about the project, with the help of more than a dozen other people.

They have since gathered more than 2,000 items, including about 1,600 vintage photos. Rhoades said the amount of data they have found is "overwhelming," but they are still looking for information.

Pickstown became an official town in 1947. The approximately 200-person town in southern South Dakota is home to the Fort Randall Dam, which was the town's instigator. Corps of Engineers employees working on the dam needed a place to stay, and Pickstown was formed as a government town.

The town is also known for multiple well-known faces, including Sitting Bull, who was held as a prisoner of war at Fort Randall before the town was formed, and Tom Brokaw, a nationally known television anchor who once lived in Pickstown.

The museum will have eight exhibits to highlight different aspects about the town:

• "The Early Years" will display history of the area before Pickstown was actually a town.

• "The Town 1947-1957" will display the town's early development, including photos of its construction and town dedications.

• "The Town 1958-Present" will include information of the town since 1957.

• "Fort Randall Dam Construction" will show the various phases of the dam's construction.

• "The School 1947-1968" will include history about James St. School in 1947-1948 -- the year it opened -- and the graduating class pictures from 1949 to1968.

• "School History" will display athletic trophies, a wide variety of pictures, school papers, news clippings, awards and personal mementos. At the presentation, Rhoades showed an eighth-grade diploma that someone submitted signed by Pick himself.

• "Special Achievement" will recognize Pickstown alumni who stand out for their achievements. The most notable person is Brokaw, but Rhoades said that "they don't want it to be a Brokaw shrine," and that they want to include information about others as well.

• "General Exhibits" will showcase material that does not fit into the other exhibits, like photos and write-ups of the Air Force station that was located east of town from 1961 to 1968.

Also, the plan is to have a small video area for viewing historical information on film, as well as an introduction DVD that will be prepared and narrated by Brokaw.

"He's going to personally narrate and tell a story about the town," Rhoades said.

Rhoades said they plan to have the museum open in three years. Exhibits will be installed next summer, and on June 14-15, 2014, there will be a reunion and a dedication ceremony.

Until installation begins, they will continue preparing the room, gathering historical items and planning the museum's organization.

"We have a responsibility to make sure this thing is set up for the future," Rhoades said.

Hegler said they want to see the sense of community he used to know in Pickstown come alive again.

"We had a sense of community here," Hegler said. "Everybody just took care of everybody. It was a town that was a family."