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Woster: Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way

A twice weekly column from Chamberlain resident and South Dakota Hall of Fame inductee Terry Woster

Terry Woster
Terry Woster

Of the many mistakes during my news career, one I still regret is when I turned down Gov. George Mickelson’s invitation to join him on a Saturday drive-around.

The invitation came unexpectedly, late on a Friday evening. I already had a full Saturday planned, with commitments that would have left a friend hanging if I’d backed out. Still, when I recall the invitation, I find myself wishing I’d bagged my Saturday and hopped in the pickup.

The phone rang, Nancy answered, listened and said, “He’s right here.’’

“It’s George Mickelson,’’ she mouthed, handing me the receiver.

“Uh, governor?’’ I asked, half thinking it was a prank. But the rumbling, high-energy voice of South Dakota’s governor was unmistakable. “Hey, it’s George. I’m thinking of taking the pickup toward Red Scaffold in the morning and wandering around up that way. I know it’s a late offer, but do you want to ride along?’’

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I had those commitments, you know? If I’d known sooner, you know? I explained my situation. He said we would do it another time. We never got the chance.

I did ride with him across town once when he drove the town car the state supplied governors in those days. He had the front seat racked way back. I had enough legroom on my side to stow a bale of hay. He had the sunroof opened for headroom. I had plenty on my side. I sometimes forget what a big man he was.

The Red Scaffold trip is the only time I remember turning down any governor’s invitation to go along. As a reporter, it made sense to jump at such chances. Maybe news would slip out. Maybe you’d get a sense of the person. Either way, it would be worth the time.

In Pierre, we lived across the street from the governor’s residence. I had a fourth-floor office in the Capitol when Dick Kniep was governor. Sometimes he’d see me walking to work and pick me up. It was a short ride. We talked about golf and campaigns and shooting pool and the price of gas. I picked up a few nuggets for stories that way. When I didn’t, I still got to see a decent guy who happened to be governor.

Some years later, I bumped into Gov. Bill Janklow in the Capitol rotunda just before noon one day. “Come on,’’ he said. “I’m giving a speech to school officials downtown.’’ I knew enough to jump at the chance. It was a frigid winter day. His car idled at the curb near the front steps of the Capitol.

“You just leave your car running?’’ I asked. “Don’t you worry about burning out the motor?’’

He explained that his body reacted badly to cold. “A new motor would cost a lot less than spending a day in a hospital.’’ During the short drive, he dropped a couple of tidbits that became legislative stories over the next few days.

A chance meeting with Gov. Mike Rounds one morning turned into a significant statewide story. A blizzard struck late in the weekend of Thanksgiving during his first term. I was plowing around town in my pickup, checking conditions, taking photos, wondering how I’d track down sources for storm details and updates. Rounds pulled up, rolled down his window and said, “I’m heading to the Capitol for a briefing with the emergency people. Come on along.’’

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Responders and planners packed the second-floor conference room. I was the only reporter. Other news outlets caught up during the day, but I had it first, as we used to say in the news business.

After a briefing or two, the state got a phone connection working for reporters to call in, listen and ask questions. I kept showing up at the conference room, preferring to see the responders as they gave their reports.

Eventually, the governor’s press secretary took me aside and said it was time to go to my office and call in on the conference line like the other newsies. In other words, they kicked me out. Still, I had had my exclusive moment.

It didn’t make up for not traveling with Mickelson that one Saturday, though.

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