Former Senate Majority Leader McKellips Remembered As A Strong Leader, Consensus Builder

Aug 25, 2017

Former Senate Majority Leader Roger McKellips died August 18 at the age of 94.
Credit Wass Funeral Home

Former Senate Majority Leader Roger McKellips died last Friday at the age of 94. He ran for Governor in 1978 and lost in the general election to Bill Janklow. A colleague of McKellips says the Democrat from Alcester provided strong leadership for the party and the State. South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s Jeremy Ludemann reports. 

Pam Nelson is the Minnehaha County Treasurer. She worked with McKellips in the State Senate in the 1990s. Nelson says a story from his banking career demonstrates his character.

“One of the things that I thought was really admirable about him – it was back in the Depression when banks were failing all over the place – Roger and his father’s bank also failed. But, they made a pledge, and I’ll never forget it – to repay every investor in their bank and that no one would have that loss and they kept that promise. They repaid everybody, and I think that says a lot about Roger,” Nelson says. 

Nelson says McKellips was passionate about economic development and creating jobs. She says he was committed to bringing people together.

“Although he was a business person, he understood working people, and he understood farmers and their needs, and how to work with them as well. And, in order to be a good leader in this state, you have to work and understand all of those different factions in order to get something done. And, if you understand that stuff, then you’re more likely to be able to convince those people on all those sides to go along with that plan, if you have one, be willing to modify your plan if you see there’s a better way, and Roger was open-minded about all of that," Nelson says. 

McKeillips graduated from Alcester High and played on the school’s Class “B” state championship basketball team in 1941. He served in India and China during World War Two and was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 2003.

He is survived by his wife of 74 years along with three children, seven grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services are set for Saturday morning at the Alcester Elementary School Auditorium.  Governor Dennis Daugaard has ordered the flags at the State Capitol to fly at half-staff on Saturday to honor McKellips.