Janklow, The Fear Factor

Posted: Friday, January 13, 2012 at 1:47 pm
By: Doug Lund
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BillJanklowAre you suffering from Bill Janklow overload yet?

It’s going to take a lot of air time and column space trying to summarize and analyze the life and career of Janklow who died Thursday only a few weeks after announcing that his quick demise was immanent. I just have a few comments from my personal encounters with the man.  Few South Dakotans have ever been so robust..so polarizing..so complicated…so dedicated..so brilliant..so popular and so reviled as our longtime governor, short time congressman and tragic soul who served 100 days jail time for manslaughter.

The word I most associate with Janklow is “fear.” I think he really enjoyed putting the fear of god into people. At least that was the case during my years in TV news and his as governor. His calls to reporters, anchors or station managers and owners complaining or wishing to “enlighten” them, about a story he had issues with, were legendary. He’d beat you down with statistics and ask you questions you couldn’t answer then scold you for being uninformed and under qualified while insisting you take down the number of the legislative research council and get your blankety blank facts straight. I received a few of those intimidating tongue lashings and have heard him say more than once he was never talking to KELO again but after a while he’d simmer down and we’d all be back on speaking terms.

As the eulogies continue in the days ahead, you’ll be hearing a lot about Janklow’s quieter compassionate side. That was never more evident to me than when he helped organize the huge World War II Veterans celebration on the grounds of the State Capitol in 2001. Janklow epitomized the slogan “Once a Marine always a Marine” crediting the Corps with turning him from a wild juvenile delinquent into a disciplined responsible man.  His  appreciation for the men and women in uniform and his patriotism in general was on fire that day as he spoke so passionately to the thousands of South Dakota’s war vets gathered on that cloudy rainy September afternoon. It was one of the most eloquent speeches of his public life made even more poignant by the fact that it came just hours after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC.  I interviewed Janklow shortly after that address and asked if, in light of 9-11, he’d considered postponing the event. Never, Doug..he said. Never. The people that we are honoring here today stood up and answered the call to fight and perhaps die for this country. What would they think if we caved-in to those thugs who despise the very freedom these World War II veterans so bravely sacrificed to preserve? No sir.

I told him I liked his speech and he told me thanks.

Finally a conversation without fear.


  1. Joe says:

    Oh Doug, you are so right. Every reporter I knew who received that call would just stare in space for about 5 minutes without blinking after the call was over. I just dreaded it when someone would say, “Hey call out to Pierre and get a comment from Janklow..” We became friends after that but it was tense at times.

  2. Lois Hemminsen Aronovitz says:

    Hi Doug,
    I read about his death today in our (Tampa) newspaper. I appreciated that he showed up for my Dad’s retirement news cast. My husband was very impressed. My thoughts go out to his family. I’ve learned all too well how painful it is to lose part of your family. RIP Gov. Janklow. Nice blog, glad it wasn’t sugar-coated. Lois

  3. Lois Hemmingsen Aronovitz says:

    Just realized my maiden name was mis-spelled.

  4. Cam Lind says:

    Doug, right on the mark. Excellent piece. CL

  5. scott klaverkamp says:

    Your comments and or thoughts about Mr. Janklow are percieved by many people as true, because of what the media has reported . Why would you ” fear ” your governor? Well, maybe ,because you “fear”your god? Come on! this is ridiculous, Doug. This man deserves the most utmost respect from everyone in SD. He might be intimidating to some, only because they are weak. He has done more for this state, and the people of this state than anyone in it’s last 50 years!!! Enough Said!!

  6. Stuart Surma says:

    Almost every South Dakotan has a Bill Janklow story. I was an “Artist” showing my photography at the Governor’s hunt and we “Artists” got to eat with the hunters at the banquet. We all got a door prize- a beer stein which had a note inside that said, “Thanks for being my friend- Bill” and that pretty much said it all! Stu

  7. Crawford T. says:

    Mine was in early 1987 right after a showing of the Oliver Stone movie Platoon at the old West Mall theater. I exited the 7 pm showing just as people were coming in for the next and Bill was one of them. He had the last portion of a cig in one hand and there was no ashcan inside the lobby to put it into, so, without batting an eye he just dropped the butt straight to the floor and stamped it out. Classic Bill, and that’s meant without even the slightest bit of disrespect.

  8. Greg C says:

    Great article! Doug. I worked for public television in the early 80’s and Janklow had his finger prints all over us. We called it Janklow vision. He put fear into mangers and producers. Doug thank you for telling it like it is. I

  9. Bill Overman says:

    Doug, You hit the bullseye on Governor Bill. What an exciting and engaging
    man he was. I had so many of those phone calls you mentioned from Govenor
    Bill when I was a reporter at KELO-LAND they could fill a library. He called
    ‘em the way he saw ‘em, and as far as the “fear factor” you mentioned, I
    don’t think that concept ever penetrated his being. Though I didn’t always
    agree with him, I knew one thing: He always did what he thought was right
    come hell or high water. That the same could be said about the rest of us
    upon our own demise is questionable. He was and always will be a substantive
    character of merit in South Dakota politics. We will miss Governor Bill because
    he challenged us. My deepest sympathies to his family.

    Bill Overman
    Oconto, Wisconsin

  10. Barbara T. says:

    My story comes from when he helped my brother place his son in a facility for developmentally disabled young adults when all efforts were failing and the family was at wits end. That young man is still there and having the best of life possible for him. I did get a chance after a meeting of the SD Assoc. of County Commissioners board to quietly thank him and give him a little hug. He said to me, ‘that is what it is all about. I am so glad I got that chance to thank him and experience that side of him. So long Bill, rest easy, you did all you could.

  11. Whenever Governor Bill came into a room for a coffee or meeting and my husband Stan and I were there he always recognized Stan and called him by name.He knew South Dakotans. Blessings and Peace to his family.

  12. sandy says:

    I don’t remember the exact year, but our family farm was raising hogs independently and selling them to the plant in Huron. We had a contract with the plant (don’t even remember the name now). Anyway, the plant was bought out by Smithfield foods, I believe, and we were told they would continue to honor the agreement producers had with the former owners. Well, that lasted about a week and the plant in Huron was closed, hogs had to be brought to Morrells and any former agreements were done. We were sick about it, we had what we thought to be a good arrangement with a good price. Gov. Janklow had spent a lot of time trying to stop this action from happening but nothing could be done. A news story gave an email address to let the Gov know how this impacted producers . Frustrated one night, I sent him an email explaining how this affected our small farm signing off with our full name/ address.
    A couple of days later, I came in the house to see the light flashing on the answering machine. I replayed the message to hear the Gov voice, thanking me for the email response and explaining how frustrated he was also and why nothing could be done. I about dropped my glass of water as I listened! We were impressed that he took the time to call with a response! It certainly lifted our spirits during a low time. Thanks for all you did Gov. Janklow!

  13. Lisa says:

    Hi Doug-
    Wondering what you meant by his quick demise was immanent.

  14. Lisa says:

    or did you mean imminent?

  15. Rhonda says:

    I always thought a little fear was a healthy thing. I think its called respect. Rest in Peace, Governor Janklow.

  16. Mike says:

    Very nice piece, Doug. I’ve been in South Dakota Radio since 1989 and have recieved a couple of those calls myself. He was incredibly arrogant.

  17. Anon Y. Mous says:

    As an out-of-stater, let me quickly say how much he was respected (and even adored) by us. We’d all get a big ole’ grin when Gov. Bill Janklow would get done speaking on a topic on the news. A grin because he’d say things in a way no one else would, and he would be correct on what he was discussing. If only people today had a little passion. If only leaders today had a CLUE what they were talking about. Look what he did for you all. Try to find another. You won’t.

  18. Anon Y. Mous says:

    “Mike” calls Janklow “incredibly arrogant”. This coming from a guy who supposedly works in journalism/the media, yet can’t even spell RECEIVED (it’s not “recieved”). I’d say you had those calls coming. If you can’t even spell RECEIVED, I can’t imagine how awful your coverage of events was.

    It didn’t happen by chance that Janklow became Governor; it also didn’t happen by chance that you work radio. :)

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