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Former Mitchell mayor's memory lives on through humanitarian award

"Giving" and "committed to a community" are two phrases commonly used when describing the late Leonard B. "Bud" Williams. And his memory will continue to live on as these two descriptions have now become requirements of an award named after the f...

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"Giving" and "committed to a community" are two phrases commonly used when describing the late Leonard B. "Bud" Williams.

And his memory will continue to live on as these two descriptions have now become requirements of an award named after the former Mitchell mayor called the L.B. Williams Humanitarian Award.

The award was created in conjunction by the South Dakota African American History Museum and Establishing Sustainable Connections (ESC) in Sioux Falls. And on Friday night, the second annual banquet was held, choosing another South Dakotan who bears these same traits as Williams.

During the award banquet, which was held at the Washington Pavilion, it was announced that the recipient was Emma Armstrong, a longtime resident of Sioux Falls, as well as a good friend to the Williams family.

Armstrong moved to Sioux Falls in 1945 with her husband, Jack, to start an auto repair shop - the first African American-owned business in the city - according to Bob Harris, the president of the South Dakota African American History Museum.

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Armstrong, who turned 100 in late 2016, is a lifetime member of the National Association for the Advancement Of Colored People (NAACP) and active in civil rights, Harris said.

"The criteria is for someone who has contributed to a community and has done something to enhance the lives of African Americans," Harris said. "So we got together and wanted to do something to pay tribute to Bud. And we thought since he did so much as an African American in the state, we could honor him by setting up this humanitarian award in his name."

Williams, who died in March 2006, was the only black mayor in Mitchell's history and is believed to be the first black mayor of a major city in state history. Prior to his career in local government, he served with the U.S. Army in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Williams began his Army career during the 1940s, when segregation was still in force. One of his first assignments was in the Pacific Theater during World War II.

Following assignments in Korea and Vietnam, Williams left the Army in 1968. Following this he served as director of the local YMCA in Mitchell for five years. He also spent time working at the Mitchell Technical Institute as a coordinator of student affairs.

In 1985, Williams was elected to the City Council and entered the 1986 mayor's race, defeating three-term incumbent Paul Tobin. Williams ran unopposed in 1988, 1990 and 1992 before stepping aside at the end of his fourth term.

This year's award recipient is extra special for Williams' wife, Bonnie, as Armstrong is a personal friend of the family. But she did more than be a lifelong friend, Armstrong also introduced Bonnie to Bud, and was a part of the wedding.

"She is really quite special," Bonnie said.

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When Bonnie first found out about the humanitarian award a few years ago, she was shocked yet amazed that it was named for her late husband.

"It is quite an honor," Bonnie said. "I am really surprised that people still think so highly of him."

Expanding the award

This year is only the second year of the award, and Harris hopes that it will continue on for years to come. But his hope is for more nominations to be sent in from across the state.

"I would just like to encourage people if they have someone who deserves this award to make a nomination," Harris said. "I doesn't haven't be an individual. It can be a business or a group. As long as they have contributed to community and have done something to help African Americans."

This year a total of 15 nominations were sent, with Armstrong receiving the most. The runner-up for the award was Devrin Clark, a trooper for the South Dakota Highway Patrol in the Mitchell area, Harris said.

And for Harris, who said Williams was a close friend, the award means a lot to him and he hopes it will continue to honor those who have made a difference in South Dakota - just as Williams did.

"We were so impressed in what he accomplished in being a black man in South Dakota," Harris said.

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