Memorial Day is a time for remembrance. We honor those who have died in defense of our freedom, and we fondly recall our friends and family who have left us.
This year, South Dakota is remembering two friends who have left us in the past few months: Gov. Bill Janklow and Sen. Jim Abdnor. Gov. Janklow and Sen. Abdnor both served our nation in uniform, and their military service was only the beginning of their service to the United States and to South Dakota.
Jim Abdnor, the son of Lebanese immigrants, never forgot his Kennebec roots. Jim loved people, and for him, campaigning wasn't work -- it was a chance to visit with his friends. After years as a respected state legislator, he served a term as lieutenant governor, before election to the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.
Jim worked hard for South Dakota, in Pierre and in Washington. He was well-liked on Capitol Hill because he was honest and he showed an interest in everyone -- from presidents to elevator operators. He was also well-respected for his dedication to committee work -- a "work horse" in a town with plenty of "show horses."
And when his political career ended, Jim came right back to South Dakota -- living in his home at Kennebec, following high school sports, and keeping up with his friends in South Dakota.
Bill Janklow started out in Chicago before he found himself as a self-described "hell-raiser" at Flandreau High School. He dropped out of school, joined the Marine Corps, then talked his way into USD, earning a law degree.
After working as a legal aid lawyer on the Rosebud Reservation, Bill came to Pierre. He joined the Attorney General's office and soon was elected Attorney General himself. Then, at the age of only 39, Bill was elected Governor.
People loved Bill because he always told it like it was. As he often said, "I may be wrong, but I'm never in doubt." And he got things done. Bill saved the state railroad system by purchasing the rails. He transformed the Sioux Falls economy by recruiting Citibank. He wired the schools for Internet access. And he was first on the scene when there was a tornado, fire, or flood. In the end, he was our governor for 16 years -- twice as long as anyone else.
There were perhaps no two people who were more different that Bill Janklow and Jim Abdnor, in their personalities and their approaches to their jobs. It's probably no surprise that, for a brief time, they were even political opponents. But both of these men left an indelible mark on South Dakota -- as "servant-leaders" in the truest sense of the word. And South Dakotans loved them both.
This Memorial Day, I hope you will take a moment to remember our two friends, Bill and Jim.