It’s pretty unusual for a University to display artifacts and papers of a student who had to talk his way into staying enrolled, once officials found out he was a high school dropout. But, it’s not so unusual when you find out that student was Bill Janklow. He remained at the University of South Dakota to receive undergraduate and law degrees—and spent his life as one of the most colorful figures in state history. Now, the school that tried to expel him is displaying some of his artifacts on campus. South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Gary Ellenbolt tells us more on today’s Dakota Digest.
The third floor of the I-D Weeks Library at the University of South Dakota is supposed to be an area of silence—an ironic thought, given the fact that one of the most bombastic people to ever set foot in the state is honored with a display on that level of the building. Bill Janklow’s former worker and long-time friend, Marshall Damgaard, is responsible for taking care of the private and public papers and artifacts on the four-term governor. He says that paradox of Janklow being honored in the library is only one of many.
“Actually, there are a lot of conflicted emotions about Bill Janklow—and probably, most of them are true. He was very demanding—he could be very insistent and very stubborn—and at times, he could be downright mean to people. The flip side of that is, I’ve never been around someone who was more generous, who was kinder than Bill Janklow. He did so many favors for people and never wanted to talk about it—and never wanted them to talk about it, says Damgaard.”
The third floor display has several items showing Janklow’s interests and activities—a badge with his photo admitted him to an election conference in a foreign country. That’s by Janklow’s U-S-D student identification card. Both artifacts are next to a jacket Janklow wore to support his beloved Chicago Bears.
“We have three different display cases in the library, and you can get a good idea of the public life of Bill Janklow. The projects on which he worked—the issues about which he cared—the people about which he cared, says Damgaard.”
Months before his death in early 20-12, Janklow announced he was giving his lifetime collections to the University of South Dakota. True to form of someone who lived a full, very busy life, Damgaard and the University are assigned the task of what to do with 375 boxes of materials.
“We are going through the boxes now, and you need to remember the boxes at the university now are the official papers. Up in Sioux Falls, at the Janklow Law Firm and at his private residence, we have many, many more boxes of his personal and political papers that are in the process of being moved down here, says Damgaard.”
By every account, Bill Janklow was fascinated by almost everything. He was a man who could launch a new program during the day, and turn into his alter-ego, B-J the D-J, that evening. The second floor of the library displays a thank-you plaque for a benefit dance “B-J the D-J” did for an organization—along with an autographed license plate, gifts to participants in the annual Governor’s Pheasant Hunt, and even a cereal box with Janklow’s photo—touting life in South Dakota. Marshall Damgaard worked closely with Janklow during all four terms as Governor—and in his short stint in the U-S Congress. Damgaard’s bushy mustache turns upward slightly as he recalls one phone visit with Janklow between his gubernatorial terms, while Janklow was living on his farm.
“And I called him—and he engaged me in a long discussion on what kind of herbicide to use on those pesky thistles in his pasture, down by the Big Sioux River. And he had obviously done quite a bit of research—but I’m a farm kid, and he wanted a farm kid’s opinion on thistles, which was vitally important to him that day, says Damgaard.”
Now—it’s time to find out how important the thistle situation was to Janklow.
“After speaking with him for several minutes, I heard ‘Wait a minute—I’ll have to get back to you and continue our conversation. When you called, I had to put Bush on hold.’ And I said, ‘You mean PRESIDENT Bush?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You put the President of the United States on hold so you could talk to me about thistles?’ And he said, ‘Yes—of course. I’m concerned about thistles, says Damgaard."
Bill Janklow said his last, public goodbye in late 20-11, when he announced he had brain cancer, and had a very short time to live. At a time like that, many friends and family members began to think of Janklow’s legacy. Marshall Damgaard sums it up in four words—“he got things done.”
“A lot of people didn’t like the way he got things done; they didn’t like his process—they didn’t like his methods—but I admire the guy because he did get things done for the state of South Dakota, says Damgaard."
But in that memorable press conference—the legacy question was put to Janklow himself—and he answered in typical Janklow fashion, leaving no doubt.
“I just want ‘em to understand one thing—I gave a damn about what I did, says Janklow."
Janklow’s papers and artifacts will remain in USD’s archives collection in the I-D Weeks Library. His public display is open until mid-May. For South Dakota Public Broadcasting, I’m Gary Ellenbolt.