Each year, SDFU recognizes individuals who give back to their communities with the Rural Dakota Pride Award. To meet the 2021 honorees, attend the Rural Dakota Pride Ceremony held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 4, during Farmers Union Day at the South Dakota State Fair on the Freedom Stage.
When you see him in costume impersonating Elvis, it may be difficult to imagine Doug Kazmerzak serving in the South Dakota State Legislature or on a committee to expand the De Smet hospital or serving on the Heartland Township board, but the Erwin farmer does all this and much more to serve his community.
“The most important and rewarding thing I have found is to help someone,” Kazmerzak says, explaining people are the reason he got involved in his community. “We share a common interest – those of us in this community share a love and concern for each other.”
Kazmerzak says he was inspired to get involved in his community through politics when he attended Boys State as a teen. “I learned about the importance of government in our lives and the seed was planted. From that time on, I have always appreciated what government does and what I can do to be involved and try to make good government.”
Kazmerzak served as a District 6 legislator from 1997-1999. “I found it very rewarding to serve in government. Government done correctly is intended to be helpful. Good government is so essential to our lives. It is part of our lives every day. Good government helps us be better citizens and provides convenience and safety measures.”
So how did a state legislator become an Elvis impersonator? “It started when I dressed up and did a skit for a relative’s anniversary party. It went from one night performing for our family to performing in front of 800 people at our all-school reunion. I have never promoted it, but I can’t seem to say, ’no.’”
He says it can be tough to make time for Elvis when there’s hay to cut or fencing to do, but he enjoys bringing joy to community members. During a performance at a nursing home, he had to chuckle when one resident argued with another over whether or not he was the “real Elvis.”
“I know I am driven by smiles,” he says. “I always encourage community members to volunteer. Even if it means stepping outside of your comfort box. I can almost guarantee that after the volunteering event, you will be so glad you did.”
Although her name is Liz Farley, most folks in Winner know her as “The Card Lady.”
“I’m a Card-e-ologist. My passion is making cards. I make homemade birthday cards, sympathy cards, anniversary cards and cards of every holiday I can come up with,” Farley explains.
What inspired this passion? “When my husband died unexpectantly in 2005, we got 822 sympathy cards in the mail and in the funeral home because he was very well liked. So, I thought, ’now wait a minute, if that many people thought that much of my husband and my family, I need to do something to pay people back.’ So, I make cards.”
In 2020, Farley made and gave 1,816 cards. Her cards are a gift that keeps on giving because instead of writing a note inside the card, she writes her note on a Post-It so they can be sent on.
When Farley’s husband Merle died, she was devastated. She and Merle had been married 41 years. And he was the reason she lived on a farm in Winner. When the couple met, she had been working in a bank on a military base in France. Merle was a MP (military police office). And because the base bank did not have a vault, each morning and evening Merle or another MP would escort Farley and the bank funds to and from base.
“I grew up in a city of 650,000, so it was a complete shock when I moved to Winner. But I was so in love that it didn’t make no difference to me.”
Making cards helped Farley work through the grief, but so did becoming involved in Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) as the volunteer coordinator.
“I’m 77. I live on the farm and there’s very little traffic, so I have a choice. I can sit on my recliner and do nothing and not sleep at night, or I can go to my scrapbooking room and make cards or volunteer. That keeps me occupied and I sleep well.”
RSVP is an organization that helps connect non-profits in need of volunteers with its volunteer members. In her role as coordinator, Farley helps facilitate this connection. She also keeps track of volunteer hours. Already in 2021, Farley and the other Winner RSVP members have volunteered more than 11,312 hours. Farley contributed more than 800 of those hours. In addition to making and sending cards, she helps prepare funeral meals at her church, and she helps out whenever a local organization needs her whether that be American Legion Auxiliary, 4-H or museum.
“Volunteering is important to our community, and it gives me a purpose to get up in the morning and go and do.”
May 12 marked Farley’s 50th year in Winner. In recognition of her involvement in the community, the Mayor proclaimed May 12 Liz Farley Day.
Joy is the common thread connecting the volunteer work Shirley Mallow has done in her church and community of Black Hawk.
Mallow, 80, enjoys singing, she enjoys cooking and she enjoys people. She has spent most of her retirement years sharing these joys with Our Redeemer Lutheran Church and other service organizations in her community of Black Hawk and neighboring Rapid City.
“Getting involved in your community is how you get to know the people of your community. If you don’t get involved, how will you get to know the people?”
And Mallow loves getting to know the people who make up the community of Black Hawk. Black Hawk is the community she has called home for more than 60 years. She has lived there on and off since she was in high school. And it’s the community she and her husband, Bob, claimed as homebase when his military career took their family across the country for months at a time.
Over the years, she has served on the Meade County Election Board, helped with the annual Foothills Chamber of Commerce pancake feed and shared her time with the local Kiwanis. Because Black Hawk is a close neighbor to Rapid City, over the years, Mallow has also donated time to the Salvation Army, packing lunches for Rapid City’s homeless. She has also helped at the non-profit, Love, Inc., sorting day-old bread to pass along to families in need.
“You know, I have been blessed in life to have a roof over my head and plenty of food on my table. And there’s lots of people out there that don’t have these necessities or the means to improve themselves. If volunteers don’t help them in some way, how will they make it?”
Of all the volunteer activities she has participated in, Mallow says she is most passionate about the work she has done for her Redeemer Lutheran Church family. Many years ago, she and Bob were among a group of people who saw the need for a Lutheran church in North Rapid, so they helped start the church.
“We didn’t know anything about starting a church, but we decided to take the bull by the horns and low and behold we got a new church.”
Since the beginning, Mallow has been actively engaged in all aspects of the church – youth programming, fundraising and the choir.
Until recently, Mallow was on the go helping in her community nearly seven days a week.
“In retirement, by volunteering I always knew what day it was and what I was doing every day.”
Then, in January 2021 Mallow suffered a severe stroke which left her in a coma for six weeks. Along with her family, she says it is the people of her community who support her and have helped her pull through.
“My church family really came forward for me. They sent me cards and prayers. I believe that’s what got me to where I am today. Without them, I could have very easily slipped into the other world. Even now, it is amazing how many people stop in to say, ‘hi.’ They have not forgotten me.”
Now that she is home, most of her time is spent in rehabilitation. She says getting back out in her community to serve once again motivates her recovery efforts.
“Once I get back on my feet, I’ll get back to baking and volunteering.”
Eager to support their son Carter’s passion for football, Kayla and Kelly Konechne signed him up for a youth football league in a neighboring community.
But they knew that the 30-mile commute wasn’t something many families could do. So together with some other parents, the couple started the KWL Youth Football team. KWL is short for Kimball/White Lake.
“We were able to get many more kids involved,” Kayla explains. “When we had to travel to another town, there were maybe five or six kids involved. When we started the teams here, we had 15 to 20 kids on each team.”
Kelly says he saw a need for a youth football program in Kimball when he noticed middle and high school football players in other communities benefiting from access to youth football programs.
“I could see that our players were a bit behind a bit because they did not start playing until seventh grade and they were competing against kids who had been playing for four years already,” Kelly says. “Playing sports also teaches kids that whatever it is you’re doing in life, it is important to do it 100 percent.”
In addition to teaching youth valuable life lessons, athletics are a great way to bring the community together.
“Kimball is a very sports-orientated community. There’s not a lot going on, so everyone shows up to watch football or volleyball or basketball and support the kids,” Kayla explains.
Kelly grew up playing sports in Kimball and working on his family’s farm southwest from town. Today, the family’s farm is where he and Kayla raise their four children: Cadence, Carter, Olivia and Ty. The couple operates a hunting lodge on the farm and Kelly raises crops and cattle with his dad and brothers.
When she isn’t feeding a crowd of hungry hunters or helping organize family reunions, Kayla works off the farm as a registered nurse.
Even though their schedules are full, the couple carves out time to invest in their community – they feel it is important to help out – especially with youth activities.
“Volunteering is a good way to show our kids we support them and we are invested in what they are interested in,” Kayla explains. “In a small community like Kimball, if someone doesn’t step up, it’s not going to happen. So, whether it’s me teaching religion classes, or Kelly coaching wrestling or us helping get the football program going – without volunteers doing the work, these activities would not happen.”
Plus, she says she enjoys volunteering with Kelly. “I’m the more detailed and planned person and he is the more involved in the practices – so we each do our part and we have a great group of other parents to work with.”
Kayla adds that one of the things they appreciate about their community is the fact there is an abundance of volunteers. “We’re not the volunteer heroes of the community. In Kimball, there’s lots of other people who volunteer.”
After Ryan Jensen and his wife, Jen, had children, they had an opportunity to move from Mitchell to Wessington Springs. This put them within minutes of Ryan’s parents.
When asked why it was important that their children grow up close to their grandparents, Ryan becomes a bit emotional.
“I was fortunate enough to live only five miles from my grandpa and grandma, and my first job was working for my Grandpa Bob and Grandma Ruth at their elevator, Jensen Grain Company. I also had a great-grandma who was a great friend and has been an inspiration to me because of her kindness and patience. We called her Granny Hindman. She lived to be 101 so my kids had the opportunity to get to know her too. I want our kids to know their grandparents, and I can see the special bond they already have with them. There are just some things that kids learn from their grandparents that I think is special.”
Ryan and Jen’s children Tregen, Sutten, Bosten and Brecken are also the reason he is a go-to youth volunteer in Wessington Springs. Ryan coaches youth baseball and basketball. He helps out at school events, raises money for city pool improvements – and just about any other activity or cause that impacts community youth. “We wanted our kids to go to a smaller school like we did when we grew up. And we both love small-town living. It’s important to me that the kids in our community have the opportunity to be able to be involved in activities and have learning experiences that will guide them for their future. I have lived a great life thus far, and it is my hope that my kids and all kids get any opportunity to do the same and can look back on their experiences and feel the same way about their life. This has been possible because of the people in my life who have guided me.”
He adds that he doesn’t think of getting involved in his community or being involved in his children’s activities are really “volunteering.”
“To be honest, as a parent, it’s just what I do. I truly want great experiences for our kids and all the kids in our community, and be able to think back and say, wow that was awesome,” Ryan says.
Ryan also holds an annual golf tournament sponsored by Springs Food Market and Jensen’s True Value called Golfin’ for a Cause, that raises funds to benefit an individual or a family that may have health concerns or have something unfortunate happen in their life, and need a little help. “This benefit is really a dual effect, which makes me extremely happy, it benefits individuals in need and it benefits the beautiful golf course in our community.”
Ryan adds that because he is a small business owner, volunteering is a way that he can give back and thank his community for their continued support of locally-owned businesses, Springs Food Market and Jensen’s True Value hardware store. “Our community members support us by shopping locally. So, it is my pleasure to serve our community and the members of our community by volunteering and giving back.” ■