Faron Wahl, Manager
It’s been said that the 1960’s began to define modern America, and the year 1966 may well have defined the 1960’s. But in stark contrast to the era’s social turmoil, that year saw a group of local folks embark on a project to preserve the history of the pioneer families settling these plains, with an intentional emphasis on agriculture.
We’re celebrating 50 years of that project called Prairie Village this season, including a commemoration planned for Saturday, July 9 at 2:00 pm at the village. Consider the state of things as folks broke ground here on that Sunday back in June 1966:
Governor Boe and Senator Mundt surely filled up with fuel at some point on their trek to Madison that day. Their gasoline flowed out of a pump calibrated to maybe 32 cents per gallon into a vehicle with a likely sticker price of around $2650. I don’t know the musical preferences of either man, but it wouldn’t have been difficult to find Simon and Garfunkel’s newly released “Sound of Silence” on their AM-only radio dial.
The population of the state they represented at the time was about 682,000, not a huge step behind its current-day census of around 850,000. While rural numbers have decreased and urban have grown, the sum of all resident South Dakotans was not as different back during the founding of the village as one might think.
The year 1966 saw the last original episode of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” as well as the maiden episode of “Star Trek”. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” was televised for the first time, a favorite that is still running annually.
Believe it or not, the first ATM was introduced in 1966. Parker Brothers created the largely forgotten board game “Hey Pa, There’s a Goat on the Roof!”, and Pampers was busy unfurling the first disposable diaper.
Not unlike present times, South Dakotans cheered our country’s advances while mourning tragic losses. US Vietnam deaths more than tripled in 1966, and a gang within the KKK made one of several attempts to lure Martin Luther King, Jr. into an assassination trap. These dark chapters were overlaid by the 100th birthday of the Salvation Army, the building of the Astrodome, and the US / Soviet race to the moon.
Few likely recall that overhead on the very day of the village’s ground breaking, astronaut Gene Cernan was completing the second-ever American space walk outside the Gemini 9 capsule, floating tethered in space while his craft orbited the earth entirely one time.
What a great thing that in the midst of the space age focus, those Lake County folks saw fit to stay on the task of preserving how we all got here. It would have been far too easy to simply figure that history wasn’t as important as the dramatic stuff coming at them.
We do hope you’ll join us to celebrate 50 years on July 9, in conjunction with our Railroad Days weekend. We’ll be charging no gate fees that Saturday – a throwback to simpler times. Postage stamps are no longer a nickel, Spirograph isn’t populating Christmas lists, and the Olds Toronado is long gone. But one thing hasn’t changed: we are still deeply dedicated to the preservation of rural South Dakota history, and we’ll be busier at it than ever during our 51st year.