Best of 2015 – SDHC Staff Picks Edition

We could explain our last year in the scope of numbers, accolades or testimonials, but, we’ll save those details for now and instead give you the staff’s picks for 2015 highlights, straight from our office at 1215 Trail Ridge Road in Brookings, South Dakota.

In short, staff picks for the Best of the South Dakota Humanities Council in 2015 include:

2015 Festival of Books in Deadwood – The festival brought in a mix of new and recurring faces with more than 70 authors offering more than 100 presentations, including Pamela Smith Hill, Garth Stein, Megan McDonald, William Kent Krueger and South Dakota favorites Sandra Brannan and Linda Hasselstrom.

One Book South Dakota – Kent Krueger’s coming-of-age story Ordinary Grace incorporated elements of crime and mystery set in 1950s, small-town Minnesota. Readers loved the story of a Methodist preacher’s family as they wrestled with a summer laced with tragedies. Krueger’s affable manner on tour in South Dakota eclipsed expectations.

Fundraising challenges met and motivated –  The SDHC’s endowment fund ensures long-term programming for humanities in South Dakota. We successfully secured endowment challenges with South Dakota Community Foundation, Black Hills Community Foundation and Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation. Each offer matching funds to help our donors’ support go further. This work continues through 2016.

New announcements for 2016 – The Festival of Books will be in our town in 2016. Brookings hosts the East River edition of the Festival on Sept. 22-25, 2016. It took research and partnerships to make the jump from Sioux Falls to Brookings, and we’re excited to try something new. Our 2016 also brings the Pulitzer Prize centennial celebration throughout South Dakota. 

And, for the rest of the story, in our own words, here are the SDHC staff picks for BEST OF 2015.


Deb Delaney, program and development assistant

Deb started with the council in February 2015 and is often one of the voices you regularly hear when you call our office. She has her hands in a little of everything we do – from website updates to mailing packages full of One Book South Dakota and handling applications for Speakers Bureau.

Deb says:

Festival of Books in Deadwood – My first festival, it was so much fun! I enjoyed browsing and shopping the exhibitors’ tables, meeting and mingling with authors, assisting book lovers at our merchandise tables, and serving at a formal tea in a Deadwood historic home. All this, and I was working my job!

Serving the people of SD – Engaging scholars, librarians, project managers, authors and poets across the state as I talk to them via email, phone, and in person to assist them in programming that carries out the vision of the SDHC. I’m very proud of my state, and now, the South Dakota Humanities Council.

Working with good people – The staff and board are committed to doing their best for South Dakota and bringing high quality programs to the people of our state. This is my first experience in the non-profit sector, and it has a different feel than commercial or private business. I think those who work in non-profit are ultimately a service-oriented group interested in giving to humanity rather than seeking personal gain.


Sherry DeBoer, executive director

By default, Sherry has become the face of the SDHC. And, this isn’t simply because she’s the organization’s director. Sherry came to the council in 1987 as a part-time assistant and has led as director since 2007. Her years invested into the council have created a strong humanities network for South Dakota.

Sherry says:

One of my favorite humanities moments of 2015 was Kent Krueger’s response to Sandra Brannan’s question posed during the Saturday night One Book keynote session at the Deadwood Mountain Grand during the South Dakota Festival of Books. Sandra wondered, what was the best email he received in 2015? He said it was when he was asked to be the One Book South Dakota author for his book Ordinary Grace. I smiled when I heard that. You could hear an audible “aww” as the audience smiled around us.

I was very happy to receive a boost to our endowment expansion in March with a major gift from the Larson Foundation. We have been thrilled to now be partnering with community foundations that will reward us for continuing to expand the SDHC endowment for building cultural capital. We have accounts now with the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, the South Dakota Community Foundation, and the Black Hills Area Community Foundation. All are providing matching grants for meeting fund goals. This will make 2016 great!

New funding opportunities with new partners round out the excitement for 2015 for me. Receiving $45,456 from the Pulitzer Board for the Pulitzer Prize Centennial Campfire Initiative was very gratifying. (For the Pulitzer centennial), we can bring programs of the highest quality to over a dozen communities in South Dakota. Authors and journalists who might not have otherwise come will journey to South Dakota to connect with this excitement and yearlong celebration.

None of these favorite memories could have happened without an incredible staff and board. We also have the best relationship with our statewide cultural partners of anyone in the region. All of this has made 2015 great.


Carolyn Speakman, administrative assistant

Between board meetings, budgets and book sales, Carolyn keeps our office humming along in ways that people we work with every day don’t always see on the surface. She also makes sure everything we need for Festival arrives in one piece.

Carolyn says:

Festival of Books 2015: Seeing familiar faces and visiting with authors from past festivals and meeting new friends and authors. The beauty of Deadwood. Walking the streets and overhearing people talk about the festival and their excitement for who they have seen and who they will see next.

Debt of Honor viewing and discussion with Ron Capps. As a veteran, I believe it’s important for America to better understand what our veterans go through at war and, more importantly, at home.

Festival of Books coming to Brookings: As staff I look forward to being able to host a festival at home, to show off ‘our’ town and help our community better understand who we are and what we do.


Jennifer Widman, director of South Dakota Center for the Book

When it comes to Festival of Books, we look to Jennifer. She’s the lead coordinator with the Festival and can work the ins-and-outs of lining up authors and publishers for the Festival each year. She’s been known to work magic during the Festival when author flights are running late.

Jennifer says:

One Book South Dakota: The announcement that Ordinary Grace by New York Times bestselling author William Kent Krueger would be the 2015 One Book selection was met with great excitement. It was one of our most popular selections ever, with more than 900 people participating in 57 discussions across the state. In addition, more than 750 people attended 12 One Book Author tour events to enjoy Kent’s humor and be inspired by his passion for storytelling. He was incredibly generous with his time and talents, and South Dakota readers are better for it.

Young Readers Festival & One Book: The first West River incarnation of our Young Readers programs was a smashing success with more than 3,500 students receiving copies of Stink: Twice As Incredible by Megan McDonald, who spoke to more than 1,500 of those students during her visit. Area school districts and summer programs incorporated books by Festival presenters into their curricula, and more than 3,000 additional students got to meet one of the other 11 Young Readers authors/illustrators during school visits or field trips. There’s nothing better than seeing theaters, gymnasiums and classrooms full of students, all cheering for their favorite books!


Kyle Schaefer, development and program officer

When questions arise about applications for Speaker Bureau and grant applications, you’ll often speak with Kyle in our office. He’s also essential to grant funding the council receives to keep our programs operating year after year. Beyond that, he outdoes us all in the home library department with about 8,000 titles in his basement.

Kyle says:

Endowment matching opportunities are absolutely my 2015 highlight. Having regional matching opportunities across the state that match donor dollars and make SDHC programming permanent has been a huge highlight. 

Continued Festival support from major Festival sponsors, including the City of Deadwood and AWC Foundation, come in as a close second, and new partnerships for the Festival of Books and Young Readers Festival in the Black Hills area from United Way and Rushmore Media.


Jessica Andrews, communications and outreach coordinator

It’s an old joke to say she gets paid to play on Facebook, but without that, there’d be no weekly Free Book Friday. She joined the council in late June and immediately launched into promoting her first Festival of Books and launching a new website.

Jessica says:

First Festival! I learned, through the reactions of our attendees, why Festival is important. It gives readers a chance to learn the stories behind the stories and connect with authors in a way you don’t get by only reading their works. It’s easy to become a gushing fan girl/boy after your first Festival of Books. We have a great community of readers and authors around Festival.

I’m learning more about the finer details of our humanities work and the value it has for people in South Dakota. On the flip side of that, I’m learning how my work can better reach people for the SDHC, and I see opportunities to grow and involve more South Dakotans.

Website! We expanded and updated our digital media with the website, e-newsletter and social media. We have more channels to reach people. While learning how to best use the channels can be overwhelming, we have room to further tailor that to our people and share our story.

And, moving forward in 2016 – I’m thrilled for opportunities to support a Festival in Brookings and the new conversations we’ll bring with 2016 programming through the Pulitzer Initiative, One Book South Dakota and our ongoing programs like the Speakers Bureau.