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Trail of Governors

Karl Gehrke

An historic event took place at the State Capitol in Pierre on Friday afternoon. Governor Dennis Daugaard and all former living South Dakota governors were together in the Capitol rotunda. They attended the unveiling of three new statues for the Trail of Governors. 

Thirty-two men have served as governor of South Dakota. And on Friday five of them were together in a rare occasion at the State Capitol. And what do the members of this exclusive club talk about when they’re together?
“All of the mistakes we made.  We laugh at each other’s mistakes. But all the governors, in my opinion, on both sides, tried to make South Dakota better,” says former Governor Frank Farrar.

A life-sized bronze statue of his likeness was unveiled at the Capitol, along with statues of former governors Harvey Wollman and the late Bill Janklow. Farrar led the state from 1969 until 1971 when Democrat Richard Kneip defeated him. Harvey Wolman was Kneip’s lieutenant governor and moved to the higher office 1978 when Governor Kneip resigned to become ambassador to Singapore. Republican Bill Janklow served as governor from 1979 to 1987 and then again from 1995 to 2003. Despite any past political differences, Harvey Wollman says getting together with the other men who served as South Dakota’s governor brings them closer together.
“You get together with all these governors and ex-governors in an informal room and we’re all on a first name basis. You know, we’re not haughty, big, proud people. It’s so different than in a lot of parts of the country. We’ve never thought of ourselves as having a lot of status. [We’re] humble, ordinary people that were very fortunate,” says Wollman. 

Credit Karl Gehrke
Former Governors Harvey Wollman and Frank Farrar stand next to their likeness to be placed on the Trail of Governors.

For Harvey Wollman and Frank Farrar, Friday’s event was an opportunity for old friends to get together and reminisce. For current Governor Dennis Daugaard, it was a chance to get to know his predecessors better.
“It’s a fact of life that in most cases the circumstances where we would meet don’t ordinarily offer that kind of opportunity,” says Daugaard. But as I’m preparing for today’s remarks, one’s called upon to review the history of the people about whom you’re going to speak. And so I have a fuller appreciation of the breadth of their careers, the length of their service and the variety of ways they’ve given public service and it’s impressive. It’s very humbling. I look at myself and I think how little I do in some ways compared to what these Governors have done,” he says.
The statues of Governors Farrar, Wollman and Janklow are the three latest additions to the Trail of Governors project, which begins in downtown Pierre and continues through the capitol grounds. Each statue captures parts of the governor’s personalities. Frank Farrar, who at the age of 84 competes in iron man competitions and runs in triathlons, is depicted in a rumpled suite striding forward. Harvey Wollman, a former history teacher, is shown speaking next to a podium with his arms outstretched. In his statue, Bill Janklow points with his left hand while holding a bullhorn in his right. Sculptors Lee Leuning and Sherri Treeby based their design on a picture of Governor Janklow leading recovery efforts following the 1998 tornado that leveled the town of Spencer.

Credit Karl Gehrke
The three statues to be placed in the Trail of Governors this year.

“It’s a moment in history, frozen,” says Treeby.
“It’s a fun piece and people will slow down and stop and spend time with Bill. If it’s just a portrait where they’re standing there it’s easy to walk by,” says Leuning.
Bill Janklow’s son Russell likes the statue, but doesn’t think his father would necessarily approve of the honor.
“I don’t know if he’d be very happy with today’s ceremony. I think it’d be fifty-fifty whether he’d show. I’d probably be speaking here on his behalf. If he was alive he probably wouldn’t show up for something like this, but the fact we’ve got all the living governors here for this, I think that’s something he would be very impressed with as well. He was good friends with a lot of these people and we’ve got a lot of history here today,” says Janklow.
The Statues of Bill Janklow, Harvey Wollman and Frank Farrar will join the first three statues of former Governors Arthur Mellette, Harlan Bushfield and Walter Dale Miller unveiled in 2012. 
Rick Jensen, Trail of Governors board president, says the board changed their original schedule for commissioning statues after last year’s unveiling ceremonies.
“We saw Governor Miller and how his family came and how much that meant to have it during a governor’s lifetime that we wanted to change it a little bit this year to get all of the living governors, except for Governor Mike Rounds who is scheduled for next year. But we thought that’d be great to have all of the living governors and have that this year,” says Jensen.
Following the unveiling ceremonies, Frank Farrar and Harvey Wollman stood next to their statues, posing for pictures with their families. The two men seemed both amused and humbled to be face-to-face with the bronze likenesses of their younger selves as governor.
“You know, we didn’t ask for this. It sort of came as a surprise and we were just told they were going to do it. And usually they don’t do these things until after we’re buried, so that’s what makes it a little uneasy,” says Wollman.  “The other part of it is, I was Governor thirty-five years ago. I was forty-three years old and now I’m not [laughs]. And so I told the sculptor I’d kind of like to look the  I did when I was younger and he said, well, I’ll do my best. Anyway, it feels really good. It’s a wonderful honor,” he says. 
“How’d they make a guy like me look nice? [The sculptors] must be great people. They did a lot of work. I don’t know why anyone would want a statue of me, but it is a great honor,” says Farrar.
In 2014, statues of former Governors George Mickelson and Mike Rounds are scheduled to be added to the Trail of Governors.

Karl was born to northeastern South Dakota crouton farmers, but was orphaned as a toddler during the Great Salad War (1966-67). Rescued by a flock of chickadees, he grew up in the woodlands of Sica Hollow. Legends of a bird boy living in the trees attracted the interest of renowned ornithologist and amateur bandoneon repairman Dr. Vogel Gehrke. With a handful of suet, Dr. Gehrke coaxed the timid boy down from the trees. He adopted him, named him Karl and taught him not to molt on the carpet. Dr. Gehrke’s book, The Bird Boy of Sica Hollow, was a best seller and Karl became a minor celebrity and teen idol. He appeared as a guest star on numerous television programs, most notably an awkward role on The Love Boat as the boyfriend of Captain Stubing’s daughter, Vicki. After critics panned his 1980 album, Bird Boy Does Disco, Karl retreated from public life and returned to Sica Hollow. Living in an isolated tree house, Karl achieved a reputation as a mystic. Pilgrims and seekers from around the world came to ask him about the meaning of life and for vinaigrette recipes. Growing tired of answering questions, he climbed down from his tree, shaved his massive white beard and took a job as the host of SDPB Radio’s Dakota Midday where he could ask the questions instead. After three years in that position, he ran out of questions and became host of Jazz Nightly instead. Karl makes his home in Vermillion with his charming wife Kari and three delightful children, Kodey, Kasey and Spatula. His hobbies include reciting the alphabet, combing his hair and doing volunteer work with delinquent songbirds.