Early settlers in Mitchell, determined to find a way to celebrate the bountiful corn harvests they were experiencing, were blessed with a sudden fit of fancy.
“Let’s build a palace of corn,” they said to themselves.
The result: The World's Only Corn Palace.
The first Corn Palace was built in 1892. Today's structure is a bit newer and larger and has undergone a makeover to its exterior.
The original planners of the palace perhaps never realized that their unique corn-decorated building would ultimately be a major tourist attraction in the state.
The Corn Palace draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Mitchell each year. And every fall, the community celebrates a week-long Corn Palace Festival, with a carnival and entertainment on the Corn Palace stage.
People in Freeman know how a good idea can get better and better and better.
Schmeckfest -- a “tasting festival” -- was started in 1959 in that community as a one-time, one-day event by the Freeman Academy and Junior College Women's Auxiliary to celebrate its 10th anniversary. According to the Freeman Courier, it featured the favorite dishes of the Mennonite people who immigrated to the area from Russia in the 1870s.
That first Schmeckfest proved to be so popular that it was repeated the following year, and the year after, and it quickly became an annual affair.
It soon expanded to two days and then to three days. The event has become known nationally for its celebration of tradition and culture and is held annually in late March or early April.
The people in Mitchell and Freeman and other South Dakota communities that host events that have stood the test of time all have one thing in common -- they were willing to take a chance. They were willing to roll up their sleeves, go to work, and take a risk.
It’s time to count Vermillion among the risk-takers.
Last weekend, our community hosted its 17th annual Ribs, Rods and Rock 'n Roll event.
I can still mentally taste the barbecue I ate last weekend. It melted in my mouth. I also had a great time snapping photos of other people, like me, who took time to enjoy the weekend, to enjoy the fellowship that happens when you share the experiences that follow when one is offered the chance to eat good food and listen to good music.
Those who remember the early years of this event know there was a lot of work, and a lot of uncertainty. There may have been times when the planners of this unique Vermillion happening thought to themselves “Why take such risks? Why go to all the planning and work to design a new venture that could, effectively, flop?”
Ribs, Rods and Rock ’n Roll is the epitome of life here on the Great Plains.
We all share the same lot here in South Dakota. Collectively, as a state, we enjoy many of the same fortunes and suffer many of the same hardships.
The crops are plentiful during a good year. But not every year is good.
Retail activity is brisk during a good year. But there are times when the economy is in a slump.
Our places of natural beauty -- the Missouri River, the Badlands, the Black Hills -- receive plenty of visitors when people are content financially. When a viral pandemic makes traveling difficult, when fuel prices rise and the future seems uncertain, people cancel their travel plans. Tourism suffers.
There are some communities in South Dakota that have proven that you can buck the odds. When times are maybe not so good, you can make them better.
And when times are good, you can make them superb.
These are communities that, through a lot of organization and hard work, year after year, have put themselves on the map.
How? They recognize the importance of unique, “signature” events. From Corn Palace Week to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, these activities virtually have grown to have a life of their own.
Last week was a busy one in Vermillion. Nerves of Coyote fans were tingling with excitement last Saturday as the USD football team played its first home game of the season in the DakotaDome.
Students at Vermillion High School celebrated their annual Homecoming last week, with coronation on Monday, a host of activities throughout the week and a parade Friday afternoon before the Tanagers football squad faced Madison in the DakotaDome that night.
Amid all of this activity, there was the unbelievable aroma of barbecue wafting around Ratingen Platz at the corner of Main and Market streets as competitors took part in the KCBS-sanctioned South Dakota Barbecue Championship.
There was also time for nostalgia on Saturday as hundreds of people strolled streets downtown to view some of the most beautiful hot rods and antique vehicles in the area. Saturday evening, downtown’s guests continued to dine on barbecue and other offerings from food vendors while listening to the region’s unique, home-grown musical talent.
We may not have a palace made of corn. But we have people who are willing to make the effort to combine barbecue, classic cars, and rock ’n roll into a two-day event and make it work.
One can’t help but feel the pulse of a strong, vibrant community when you consider all that happened in Vermillion last weekend.
We can't help but predict a stronger and stronger pulse here in years to come.