In my high school days, Main Street in my hometown was a hopping place.
Shops and stores did brisk business during the days. They did even better on Saturday evenings when people from the farms and ranches made it to town to shop. That’s how I remember it.
And every night, it seemed, my friends and I were out in our folks’ Fords and Buicks, dragging main in Chamberlain like a low-budget version of the teens in the movie “American Graffiti.’’ You remember that one? “Where were you in ’62?’’ With a couple of bucks worth of gas in my dad’s Chevy Biscayne, I’d haul my buddies around and around, down main, back up, and down again.
We’d sometimes park a while to chat, and we’d trade rides in each other’s cars, talking about doing a little racing to see whose vehicle had the most guts but somehow never quite getting around to finding out.
That was Main Street in the 1950s and early 1960s. My friends and I pretty much pictured Main as starting at the Highway 16 intersection and running down to the turn just before American Creek. Half a dozen blocks. That was the whole deal then.
The other day, driving home from a weekend cross-country meet in Huron, I came down the north hill on Highway 50 into town and realized Main Street these days is a lot more than I thought it was as a kid. The real Main Street runs from St. Joseph’s Indian School at the north edge of town to the Interstate 90 exchange just past the south end of town. The business strip along that street still is filled with shops and stores, although only a few are the same ones we rode past again and again in my high school days.
The thing is, the street now is bookended by a couple of places that qualify as really big deals. I mean, places of statewide, even national, importance.
At the north end, on the St. Joe’s campus, is the Akta Lakota Museum. St. Joe’s has been on that spot since 1927, long before I came onto the scene. But the museum is a relatively recent addition. It officially opened in 1991, so it’s celebrating 30 years as a place where the culture and customs of the native people of the Northern Plains are explained, recognized and celebrated.
According to the school’s website, Akta Lakota means “to honor the people.’’ That’s just what the museum does. It attracts people from across the nation, across the globe, to be honest about it. They can admire the artifacts, artwork and other displays and walk away enriched. Those who wish to spend a little more time can walk away with a deeper understanding of the people who were on this land by the Missouri River long before settlers from Europe began to arrive. It’s a pretty neat place.
At the south end of Main Street, right next to the I-90 exit, is the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Travelers who left the freeway to travel through town and visit the Akta Lakota Museum wouldn’t be wasting their time if they also pulled into the parking lot of the Hall of Fame and looked through the displays.
If Akta Lakota is a celebration of the history and traditions of the native people of the Northern Plains, the South Dakota Hall of Fame is a celebration of individuals who have been instrumental one way or another in making South Dakota what it is today. The stories of the inductees are the story of the state – from pre-territorial days to current times. To list some of the inductees would be to fail to mention others. Suffice to say, they’re a group of women and men who pursued excellence for themselves and for their greater community.
The Hall of Fame started in 1974. The 1996 state Legislature recognized it as the official Hall of Fame. For the last quarter century, then, it has officially been the place where South Dakota recognizes some of its people of achievement.
My hometown Main Street grew much longer when Akta Lakota Museum and the Hall of Fame came to town.