I am a hoarder.
Not to the extent that it could lead to an appearance on that television show with family members conducting a tearful intervention with me as trucks pull up to the back door to haul away room-clogging piles of useless junk that I’ve amassed from years of being a pack rat. No not that kind of hoarder. I’m more like a squirrel stockpiling his nuts so he’ll have something to feed on during the cold winter months. Only instead of nuts, I hoard South Dakota magazines. Bernie Hunhoff’s wonderful chronicle of all things South Dakotan is now in its 26th year and I have nearly every one of the 150 issues safely tucked away in a couple boxes. I used to read each one from cover to cover as soon as it arrived. But then, like an intimate encounter with the one you love, I’ve found that it’s over far too quickly and you have to wait another two months for the next time. (Okay, maybe that analogy is a bit too revealing) So, for the last couple years I’ve intentionally set aside my South Dakota magazine (hoarding if you will) saving their reading for special occasions like long airplane rides or considerable stretches away from home..like now.
I have in my possession, well, actually in the porcelain library upstairs, pristine copies of both the November/December and January/February issues that I have been trying to ration out to myself since we arrived; one story per visit. Only twice has Linda had to holler, “You gonna be in there all day?”
I’m currently reading the fascinating accounts of infamous blizzards that have blasted across South Dakota over the decades. One in particular especially struck home with me.
In January of 1975, I had been anchoring the 10 O’clock news with Steve Hemmingsen for less than a year when I got a call from my boss, Tom Sheeley, on a Saturday telling me to get down to the station, bring your suit and prepare for a long stretch on the air.
The S.D. Magazine story tells of how Keloland’s chief engineer, Les Froke, was at his post in the control building at the site of our two thousand foot broadcast tower east of Sioux Falls when, what some have called, The Blizzard Of The Century” came barging in on the Midwest. Les recalled being jolted awake by what sounded to him like a giant pipe organ.
What he heard was the noise of three tower sections cascading towards the earth after 80 mile an hour winds snapped a guy wire; the air rushing through the severed pipes created an eerie harmony like a million people blowing across the top of coke bottles. One section crashed onto a garage but Les’ building was spared.
“The blizzard has knocked our main tower down,” Sheeley said,” but we’re switching over to our thousand foot back-up at Shindler and we need you to be ready when we return to the air.” Hemmingsen must have been on vacation or out of town because when they threw the switch and we were once again broadcasting, it was just me and Fred Ertz sitting at the news desk and our responsibility to let viewers know just the heck was going on. Before long every Keloland employee who could make it to the station was called to duty; answering phones and taking information about everything from cancelled events to missing persons. Fred and I would then pass along that info to our viewers. I don’t remember how many hours this went on without so much as a bathroom break but by the time we were relieved, I remember feeling tired, yes, but also exhilarated knowing we had been a beacon in the storm and actually able to help people though a scary time. I’ll never forget it. And even though losing that expensive tower was a huge financial blow to the owners of Keloland Television, the amazing feat of our engineers getting us back on the air within hours of the disaster was, in fact, our FINEST hour.