The members of one Blunt family have represented the community at ALA Girls State four times.
Penny Norris says that she attended American Legion Auxiliary Girls State in 1976, when the country was immersed in celebrating its bicentennial.
“It was a really big honor,” said Penny about being selected to go.
Penny says that it is her competitive nature that led to her applying to go to ALA Girls State. “It was kind of a competition,” said Penny. “They went by your GPA, and you had to write an essay.”
ALA Girls State was held at Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, its home from 1947-1985, the year Penny attended. “We got up really early for flag-raising,” said Penny. “There wasn’t as much campaigning for office as there is now.” ALA Girls State moved from DWU to South Dakota State University, and in 2002, it moved to its current home, the campus of the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.
Penny recalls setting up a model South Dakota government. “I had studied ahead so I’d know what I was doing,” said Penny. “I’d read about it, but it’s easier to understand when you see it in action. To see the different workings of the government, I was very interested in all of that and had studied it, but to participate is a whole different deal.”
“We even had a session on filibustering. That was interesting.”
Penny says that what she enjoyed the most was the opportunity to “meet all these girls with similar interests.” Penny says that her family didn’t do a lot of traveling, so “to get out and see things, see how people dressed was exciting for a small town kid.”
Wanting her kids to experience what she had, Penny encouraged their participating in ALA Girls State.
“My mom said it was a good opportunity, and a way to meet people and learn about our state,” said Dannale Norris, a 2014 ALA Girls State delegate. “It was true.”
Dannale says that she ran for a few offices and was elected coroner for her city, but her favorite part was “being on the jury and being part of the court case.”
ALA Girls State participants held a mock trial of an actual case that had been heard in South Dakota. “It was interesting to see how our decision compared to the actual decision,” said Dannale. “My group was the only group to find the accused ‘not guilty.’ Every other group including the actual trial found them guilty.”
Enrolled at Northern State University with a semester of classes remaining before earning her degree in English and Creative and Professional Writing, Dannale says that ALA Girls State “definitely taught me how to study for college.” Dannale took the Law Enforcement test, something she still finds “really interesting.”
When Kirsten Marshall completed her junior year in 2017, Penny again encouraged her daughter to do ALA Girls State. “Mom said that if I wanted to go, I could go,” said Kirsten. “All my friends were going anyway, so I thought ‘might as well.’”
“I didn’t know much about it except what Dannale had said - that it was fun and that I would meet a lot of people there.”
Like Dannale, Kirsten says that she enjoyed the jury trial. “That was a cool experience I thought,” said Kirsten. “I really enjoyed that.” Kirsten also enjoyed the talent show, and meeting armed services personnel, including a service dog. “They had a rover with them, and a dog, and they showed what the dog could do,” said Lexi. It was pretty cool.”
“I didn’t run for office or campaign,” said Kirsten. She remembers that Kristi Noem during her tenure in Congress was one of the speakers she heard during ALA Girls State.
Kirsten is attending Lake Area Tech for Cosmetology. Of the eighteen month program Kirsten says “I like it a lot, actually,” and that she will “hopefully be done in December.” She runs into some of the girls she met while she was at ALA Girls State when she visits Dannale on the NSU campus, and “I still snap a few of them here and there.”
The latest in her family to represent Blunt at ALA Girls State is Sully Buttes senior Lexie Marshall, who commented, “They went and I thought I should, too.”
Lexie says that she “helped people make campaign posters” and won her election for Law Enforcement for her city. “We told people what to do, which was kind of fun.”
The 2019 ALA Girls Staters learned about political parties, and although the candidate from her party was not elected Governor, Lexie says it was “okay because we liked the other person on the other team, too.”
Already aware of how laws are made, Lexie entered a bill “about making a pizza day – it didn’t pass.” The bill about declaring war on Boys State did pass, however.
Lexie stays in touch with her newly minted ALA Girls State friends through a snapchat group.
Their universal attendance at ALA Girls State is just one indicator of the family’s civic involvement. Penny and husband Cliff are Therapeutic Foster Parents and the family is a Therapeutic Family. Cliff for many years coached YMCA basketball and football. The Norrises volunteer at the Blunt Senior Center, and are involved in cooking and helping at the Sunday breakfasts there. Lexie was one of the Sully Buttes students who helped with the recent sandbagging efforts in Blunt. Both Kirsten and Dannale were cheerleaders as Sully Buttes students, and Dannale is a four-year cheerleader at Northern State University. Son Dusty has made the Dean’s List at Northern State University two years running. Several of their foster children are Blunt Junior Firefighter members. The family has hosted Boy Scouts and classes in safely handling and riding horses.