Flanking First Gentleman Bryon Noem are Onida Mayor LaJena Gruis and Fire Chief Caleb Shepherd during their tour of the community last Friday.

Photo by Ben Koistra

First Gentleman Bryon Noem has adopted as his initiative as the spouse of the Governor a plan to tour small town South Dakota. In support of this initiative, Noem toured Onida last Friday, July 16.

During lunch at the Bakery Café, Noem inquired with community leaders Mayor LaJena Gruis, Onida Fire Chief Caleb Shepherd, Greg Lorenz representing Onida Area Development Corporation, and Sheila Ring representing the Onida Chamber of Commerce about activity in the community and areas of need.

Gruis related that Onida is in the midst of a water and sewer infrastructure project and was fortunate to receive grant monies from the former SD Department of Environment and Natural Resources to help with funding it. She also noted that the city has applied for funds to repair sidewalks in the community.

Noem asked questions about the school, Onida’s parks, and nearby communities, and commented on the Welcome to Onida signs that were installed on Highway 83 by the Wheat Land Lions several years ago.

The tour made a stop at the Blue Goose Sports Bar, and Noem added his signature to those of local athletes saying he’d send sports memorabilia from Bryant and Hamlin for display at the Goose.

At The Corner, Noem asked about the convenience store’s customer base. Pam Eidsness and Barb Gilliland explained that this is the time of year The Corner is busy serving harvest crews, and that adjustments to the store’s hours during COVID are more or less now permanent because of the challenge of finding enough help.

Noem visited Brock’s Butcher Block and examined the premises. Brock Aspelin commented on his busy butchering schedule and explained that he was recently awarded monies that became available through COVID funding for purchasing a vacuum stuffer for his business. Aspelin also stated that should more money become available, the investment in his business would be welcome.

At the Onida fire hall, Shepherd detailed the 30 member composition of the fire department and noted that the switch to the national EMS exam has presented some challenges for certifying EMTs. Speaking with Noem about his family’s ag business, Shepherd related that the bulk of their employees are in the United States through the H-2A Temporary Ag Workers program.

Saying he loves hardware stores, Noem’s Onida tour continued at the Discount. Manager Roxy Marshall indicated that with so many staying at home during COVID, 2020 had been a good year for the business. The impact of the loss of Vilas Healthcare on the community came up during the tour, with Gruis explaining that the Discount had increased its inventory of school and office supplies, Crazy B’s had added giftware, and Don’s Food Center was serving as the hub for prescription drug delivery; Noem found the response of other businesses to the loss of Vilas typical of small towns.

After a quick stop at BankWest to visit with his insurance industry colleagues, the tour concluded at the Sully County Courthouse, with a final stop at the City Auditorium where Noem shot some hoops.

On a link to South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem’s webpage governor.sd.gov, FG Noem’s initiative is explained. ‘As First Gentleman, my mission is quite simple: I want to celebrate South Dakota and all the things that make it special. I want to remind people of the hidden gems in our small towns – the places off the beaten path. These hometowns are the heartbeat of our state, and I want to highlight them. I want to remind people that these are some of the best places to raise a family or to start a business.’

Noem’s tour of the central part of the state continued with a drive through Agar and supper at Akaska. Already, Noem has toured northwestern and northeastern South Dakota, and he announced his plans to visit in the Black Hills over the weekend and attend the Hills Alive Christian Music Festival.