Senator John ThuneSpeaking to school groups in South Dakota, I am often asked how I ended up pursuing a career in public service. It is impossible for me to think about the path that led me to where I am today without giving thanks for the guidance of many people who have served South Dakota before me. One such man who inspired me to enter public life was Governor George S. Mickelson.
This past April 19th marked the 15th anniversary of the plane crash that took Governor Mickelson's life, along with Roland Dolly, Ron Reed, Angus Anson, David Birkeland, Roger Hainje, Ron Becker, and Dave Hansen. The plane crashed in Iowa while returning from Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Governor and the others were meeting with Morrell officials about keeping the Sioux Falls plant open.
George Mickelson believed that bringing more economic development to South Dakota was among the most important things he could do as governor, and his trip to Cincinnati was part of fulfilling that mission. Even today, South Dakotans remember George Mickelson as a leader who elevated South Dakota to a whole new level of economic growth.
Governor Mickelson must be remembered for more than just his goals to grow South Dakota's economy. As governor, he took the landmark step of seeking reconciliation with South Dakota's Sioux tribes, striving to put the animosity that existed between the tribes and the state in the past. He also presided over South Dakota's centennial, a celebration of the progress the state had made from the prairie to the present.
George Mickelson represented South Dakota like few others could. He was born in Mobridge, raised in Selby, and like his father, former Governor George T. Mickelson, he served in the state legislature. His broad smile and energetic personality were emblematic of his deep roots on the Missouri River.
I had the honor to serve under Governor Mickelson as South Dakota's Railroad Director. During that time, George was as good a friend and mentor as anyone could ask for. His death was tragic, and I have always believed that South Dakota was deprived of a great leader before his time. I ask all South Dakotans to join me in remembering this great man, as well as those who joined him on that trip promoting South Dakota, who helped to make our state a better place for future generations.