Four Female Leaders

This photo taken during the 2019 South Dakota Girls State in Vermillion shows four female leaders — (from left) 2018 Girls State Gov. Calico Ducheneaux of Mobridge, University of South Dakota President Sheila Gestring, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and Girls State Director Cheryl Hovorka.

For Cheryl Hovorka, her Catholic faith and patriotism were so important that visitors were encouraged to wear red, white and blue at her visitation and funeral.

The Yankton woman died Dec. 4, and her funeral was held Monday at St. Benedict Church. She served as an active parishioner as well as a member of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas.

Hovorka’s patriotism went far beyond symbolism. She continually advocated for veterans and served with Jean Hunhoff as co-chairs of the American Legion Auxiliary unit in Tabor.

Hovorka came from a military family tradition, and she held a special place in her heart for veterans, according to former Tabor American Legion commander Susan Shrader.

Hovorka chaired both the VA Christmas Party and Gift Shop at the Human Services Center in Yankton.

“Cheryl and her family cooked for the veterans at the Human Services Center at Christmas for many years,” Shrader said. “She was also instrumental in helping the veterans get gifts for their families.”

In addition, Hovorka played a key role in providing government and leadership training for thousands of young women. For nearly two decades, she directed South Dakota Girls State for the American Legion Auxiliary. The annual event has been held at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion.

“When she became (Girls State) director, Cheryl moved the office to Vermillion,” Shrader said. “Since then, it has grown in strength and has flourished.”

Hovorka guided a generation of future leaders in another way.

She worked for USD since 1992 and as the political science department’s program assistant since 1997. Her responsibilities included work with the Farber Funds, named after long-time USD political science professor William O. “Doc” Farber. The $4.5 million endowment provides more than $170,000 annually for USD undergraduate students majoring in political science, criminal justice and international studies.

“Cheryl not only assisted with the disbursement of the funds but also was very close with alumni who have donated to the funds over the years,” said David Earnest, chairman of the USD Political Science Department and director of the W.O. Farber Center.


Hovorka showed pride in the University of South Dakota and was a fixture at the DakotaDome for home football games, according to USD political science professor Mike Card.

“Cheryl was a USD Coyote through and through — loyal to the teams and to the University and its people. Every Friday, she wore the school colors and logos with unabashed pride,” he said. “Many mornings throughout the year, Cheryl would update me on the latest news from the women’s basketball team or athletes who majored in our department.”

Shortly before she passed away, Hovorka saw the USD football team score its first victory over rival South Dakota State University in nearly 20 years and the first football win over SDSU in the NCAA Division I era.

“I have to believe that USD’s victory over SDSU on November 23 gave her great joy even as she was ailing,” Card said.

Hovorka also showed tremendous love and pride toward her family, Card said.

“She was also loyal to her mother, Irene, and involved her in going to football games, meetings and so forth,” he said. “Cheryl told stories, even including people I didn’t know, but I came to know them through her stories. Many of these were about her friends and, especially, her nieces and nephews.”

Hovorka was deeply committed in all areas of her life, including her Czech heritage, Earnest said.

“She also was passionate about the annual Czech Days festival in Tabor, for which she served as the parade marshal in 2016,” he said. “To each of these causes, she brought dedication, vision and humor. Although she would never identify herself as such, Cheryl was truly a leader.”

Tabor residents Dennis and Sherry Povondra worked with Hovorka in many organizations. The groups included the Tabor Chamber of Commerce, Tabor American Legion Auxiliary, Czech Heritage Preservation Society and the Tabor High School Alumni.

“Cheryl showed her talent and leadership in all these organizations. She was very kind hearted and dedicated in whatever she did and will be greatly missed,” Dennis said.

“She accepted any challenge and strived to do her best — she had so much pride and love for her family and was so proud of her many affiliations, especially the American Legion Auxiliary.”

USD professor Shane Nordyke agreed.

“I have never known anyone more proud of being an American, a South Dakotan or a Coyote than Cheryl Hovorka,” Nordyke said. “She had the heart of a patriot and an unwavering commitment to public service.”


Tabor native Jean Hunhoff counts Hovorka as a lifelong friend. The women, along with Annie Jacobs, started a friendship in 1969 as freshmen at Tabor High School, and their connection continued for the past 50 years.

The three women remained in constant contact and shared experiences, Hunhoff said.

“(We were) the ‘golden girls’ that did everything together. We met weekly, communicated regularly and went on trips together,” she said. “We were family for each other. We helped each other out all the time and shared life happenings together.”

Hovorka worked to show thanks for those who served others, Card said.

“That meant first responders, but more the veterans — those who volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the lifestyle and privileges that we have in this country,” he said. “She worked the last weekend of her life raising money for veterans at the Human Services Center.”

Card wasn’t surprised at such a hard-working approach without worrying about getting credit.

“Cheryl was a member of the ‘doer’s club’ — see a problem, fix it or find someone who can. No drama, no self-aggrandizement — just get it done,” he said. “What I remember was her telling Girls Staters, ‘Whatever you do, choose to pursue something larger than yourself.’”


Girls State posed a massive undertaking, bringing 350-400 high school girls to the USD campus each year, Earnest said.

“Cheryl organized everything from housing and meals for the young women to guest speakers, which usually included the governor and at least one member of South Dakota’s congressional delegation,” he said. “In this respect, Cheryl is responsible for introducing literally thousands of tomorrow’s leaders to today’s leaders. This will be her impact across generations.”

Hovorka’s work with Girls State was recognized nationally, according to USD political science professor Tim Schorn.

“She was committed to giving the high school girls the best possible experience when they came for the week,” he said. “You had to be careful walking past her during the lead-up to Girls State or you’d find yourself with a job to do or role to play.”

Hovorka displayed compassion, devotion and love, according to Girls State assistant director Tiffany Newman. The women worked together on Girls State for the last 10 years.

“Losing such an impactful woman, not only to South Dakota Girls State but to the state of South Dakota, is immeasurable,” Newman said. “Moving forward right now seems nearly impossible, but Cheryl touched so many lives that her legacy will continue. The program will continue on in her memory and honor for many years to come.”

Yankton native Emily Niebrugge served as a Journalism City counselor during Girls State, overseeing the delegates tasked with coverage of the week’s events.

“How do you accurately describe and reflect one woman’s influence on an entire state? Or entire generations of young women who blossomed into amazing leaders not only in South Dakota but across the country?” Niebrugge asked.

“Cheryl was a subtle yet fierce force among our state and region in her ability to bring people together and accomplish greatness.”

For Journalism City delegates, the week provided a valuable lesson on the First Amendment, Niebrugge said.

“Cheryl opened the door for me to teach our youth about the importance of journalism and a free press,” Niebrugge said. “She guided all of us as counselors to lead those younger than ourselves and to do so with grace, confidence and pride.”

Girls State provided opportunities for more than the teenage participants.

Becky Haslam was a veteran and a non-traditional student who met Hovorka while working in the USD political science department. Haslam worked with Girls State 2006, and Hovorka approached her the following spring about stepping into the role of Girls State office manager.

“I jumped at the chance and was office manager for Girls State from 2007- 2011. I loved my time helping, but it was special as Cheryl made it so much fun,” Haslam said. “My son was young at the time and my husband was away to a convention one year, so (my son) came with me to Girl State as a runner for us and, as far as I know, the only boy to be at Girls State for the week.”

Hovorka worked to make Girls State more efficient, such as getting the computer science department to design a program making it easier to count election ballots and get results, Haslam said.

Hovorka’s patriotism continued right up to her death, Haslam said.

“I’m not surprised to hear about (Cheryl’s) active role in a Patriotic Plaza at USD that Girls State could use for the morning flag raising (ceremony),” Haslam said. “I know she is working up in Heaven to get this project done.”


Schorn said it’s difficult to come to terms with the passing of his long-time colleague.

“I can’t believe we worked together for 22 years; it doesn’t seem that long,” he said. “And I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet. Even after the funeral, we’re still going to be expecting to see her in her office Tuesday morning, that she was just away working on a veterans or Auxiliary project, and that she’ll be back.”

Hovorka served as the political science department’s “memory” and conscience, Earnest said.

“Her long friendship with Doc Farber allowed her to speak with his voice, in a sense — to remind us of Doc’s vision for the students and to support their learning and professional development,” he said.

Hovorka carried tremendous qualities in every facet of her life, Earnest said.

“Cheryl represented everything about South Dakota that is special. She was a leader yet modest and unassuming,” he said. “She selflessly gave to those in need. Cheryl felt a great sense of pride in her many communities — Yankton, Tabor, USD, South Dakota and our veterans … She was precisely the kind of person who makes our communities stronger, more selfless and more compassionate.”

The USD department has received an outpouring of contacts from students and graduates.

“Sometimes, we were afraid that students didn’t really know Cheryl or weren’t aware of how much she did,” he said. “We’re realizing that the students and their predecessors … knew how hard she worked and how committed she was to them, and they really appreciated her and the work she did.”

Hovorka provided strong personal examples that inspired others, Card said.

“In this world, where the culture seems to be one of doing only what makes you look good or fits on a resume, she stood further out of the norm,” he said.

“Her loyalty and her trust (were) not for sale — it was earned. She never talked about thinking big — it was about doing what you can and in your role. She did quite a bit in her time on this earth.

“Her life of service was all about the people.”

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.


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