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Fortunate only begins to describe life in SD

There was a time when I thought I'd scream if I ever watched another turkey hunt on an outdoor sports channel. I even gave up turkey hunting for a few years. But today, the interest is back, and I'm going to resume my turkey hunting if I draw a tag.

There was a time when I thought I'd scream if I ever watched another turkey hunt on an outdoor sports channel. I even gave up turkey hunting for a few years. But today, the interest is back, and I'm going to resume my turkey hunting if I draw a tag. April 9 is the season opener.

I want a jake (young gobbler) or nothing at all. Our last gobbler was tougher than nylon. No doubt this had something to do with my momentarily turning away from turkeys. Turkey hunting, at least in our area, has changed over the past few years as far as varieties are concerned. At one time, our area - and especially Gregory County - was all Merriam turkeys. Today, Rio Grandes have infiltrated the ranks, leaving an abundance of hybrids. I'll presume that the Rios gradually worked their way north from Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas.

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In the February 2016 issue of American Hunter magazine, we find the story "To the Coldest Go the Spoils" by Jeff Johnston. In his story, Johnston, a nonresident, touts South Dakota as a world-class hunting destination. Johnston reminded me once again how fortunate we are to live here. Our recent Dallas, Texas incident (see the Jan. 20 column) also serves to reinforce my love of South Dakota.

Other than our world-class outdoor activities, South Dakota offers great neighbors, a multitude of employment opportunities, affordable home ownership, and safe schools where our children can be in the band or on the basketball team without parents harassing school boards and coaches. You wouldn't believe what can go on.

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But good things, including being a South Dakotan, come at a price. One of these obstacles can be limited access to health care depending upon where one lives. I have sometimes wondered how often distance from health care has cost a human life. It no doubt happens.

When Betsy and I were married in 1965, we began our family immediately. We loved Willow Lake, but not all small towns, Willow Lake included, had a doctor. With one baby and more to follow, we wanted a doctor nearby. We chose Parkston, where I would teach English and do some coaching. We probably scouted Parkston better than Parkston scouted us, for we knew about doctors McCann, Monson, and Porter. They were as good as doctoring gets.

In spite of our good fortune, a part of our hearts still remained in Willow Lake. Would towns like Willow Lake ever get their doctors? It seemed that between doctors and keeping their schools, small towns hung in a balance. Pheasants, deer, and walleyes were one thing. For South Dakota, small town survival was another.

Before I move on, I want to touch a bit of Willow Lake history. As mentioned, Willow Lake didn't have a doctor, but we did have the "toe tickler." Locals swore that his feet massage therapy would not only alleviate pain, but it could cure illnesses. I regret never having gone to the tickler, but I can attest to the vehicles from New York to California parked in front of his practice. I'm not making this up!

In 1971, the Wiltz family moved to Burke, where I would try my hand at being a high school principal. Leaving Parkston was difficult but I wanted to live in Gregory County, as I had perceived Gregory County to be a sportsman's paradise. I had also been offered the superintendent position in Fairfax, but Burke's Dr. Sweet made the decision easier. He was greatness shadowed by modesty.

In wrapping up this little autobiographical sketch, I applied for two positions in the spring of 1976. One was high school principal at Wagner, the other was high school principal at Sundance, Wyoming. Though I was offered both positions, Betsy didn't want to put more distance between family in Sioux Falls and her. Our final decision-maker was a conversation with Wagner's Glen Schoepf. He told us about doctors R.W. Honke and Bruce Brookman. Both were deservedly legends in their own time.

I believe that my early perceptions about the importance of doctors to rural South Dakota were accurate. Over the years, we watched the story of small-town health care unfold. South Dakota proved that necessity is indeed the mother of invention. I'm talking about physician assistants and nurse practitioners. These people are slowly but steadily solving our health care problems by setting up practices in our smaller communities. I know my town of Wagner depends on them.

I didn't know what a physician assistant was until our youngest daughter, LuAnn, applied for admission to the University of South Dakota School of Medicine Physician Assistant (PA) program in the early 1990's. She graduated with USD's first physician assistant class. Today, she works in reconstructive surgery with a knife in her hand after spending many years in family practice.

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In no way do I wish to demean the importance of a doctor. Physician assistants work under the supervision of a doctor. A doctor's formal education is more extensive.

However, I firmly believe that the early years for a doctor, a physician assistant, or a nurse practitioner are crammed with on-the-job training. Given years of hands on experience, many physician assistants or nurse practitioners will make a diagnosis that some doctors miss. I don't want her getting a "big head," but I'd put my life in the hands of physician assistant Beth Schroeder of the Lake Andes Clinic any time.

I suppose there might be a doctor somewhere who feels threatened by physician assistants or nurse practitioners, but I doubt it. I especially admire the way our family doctor, Dr. Richard Honke of Parkston, (Dr. R.W. Honke's son), takes student physician assistants and nurse practitioners under his guidance. He was a guiding force with two of our daughters, Dr. Laurie and PA LuAnn.

In Rolvaag's Giants in the Earth, we have Per Hansa and Hans Olsa. South Dakota had other giants. They included our first family doctor, Dr. Bell of DeSmet. Add Wagner's doctors R.W. Honke and Bruce Brookman.

But you know what? A day will come when physician assistants and nurse practitioners will make the South Dakota "Giants" list. I'd bet on it.

If you are small town, raising a family, and relish our hunting and fishing, thank your physician assistants and nurse practitioners.

See you next week.

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