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Tragedy That Shook South Dakota

Governor Mickelson's plane
Mark Hirsch, AP

Twenty years ago today, an unspeakable tragedy shook the entire state of South Dakota.  South Dakota’s governor, George S. Mickelson and seven others died in a plane crash near Dubuque, Iowa.

The state’s eight seat, twin engine plane struck a silo killing everyone on board.  The plane was returning to South Dakota from Ohio where the governor and his entourage were on a mission to save the John Morrell and Company packing plant.

I felt tied to the crash then and I still do twenty years later.  I was on the air that evening at KPAT.  The day already had been horrible, with the tragedy in Waco Texas.  David Koresh and his followers in a religious compound lost their lives in a fiery siege with federal officers earlier that day.

While I was on the air, we got alerts from the AP wire that the plane carrying the governor and others may have crashed.  It wasn’t long before we learned the tragic news that it was indeed the governor’s plane and that all aboard were dead.  It was numbing and surreal at the same time to broadcast that news.

When I learned that one of the men aboard was Roland Dolly, the commissioner of the governor’s Office of Economic Development, I was in terrible shock.  He was just 37 years old.  He grew up in Presho and lived in Pierre with his wife Lane.

Rolly became a friend of mine when I was a college student at Augustana College.  Rolly was working on Senator Jim Abdnor’s staff in Washington, D.C.  I was lucky enough to be granted an internship in the Senator’s office where I met Rolly.

For some reason, Rolly took an interest in me and we became friends for the time I was in Washington.  We went to many lunches, suppers and did a lot of sight seeing.  He was a genuine man who wanted to help others.

Rolly helped me with some of my tasks that I was assigned.  He helped me with a lot of advice.  He was an intelligent, caring man who cared for the state of South Dakota and its people.

I still think of Rolly and feel sadness that he had to die so young along with seven others that made such a huge impact on the state.  I wonder how much better we would be had they lived to give many more years of service to the people.

These were men that cared for the people of South Dakota, They died serving the state.  They are not forgotten.  They are missed and fondly remembered by so many.

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