Five Things We're Thankful for at the South Dakota Humanities Council

Author Faith Sullivan during an event at the 2016 South Dakota Festival of Books. Sullivan is one of many talented authors who appear at our annual Festival. 

Counting our Blessings

During this Thanksgiving week, our staff at the South Dakota Humanities Council decided to reflect on some of the blessings we are counting in 2017.

Here are five of the many things we are thankful for this year.

We are thankful for:

1. Generous Donors and Sponsors

The above chart shows fundraising efforts from the South Dakota Humanities Council since 2012.

The above chart shows fundraising efforts from the South Dakota Humanities Council since 2012.

As a statewide advocate for the humanities, our mission is to celebrate literature, promote civil conversation, and tell the stories that define our state. To fund our programs, we rely on the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as numerous sponsors and donors.

In recent years, to protect our organization from potential cuts in federal funding, we’ve asked our donors to solidify our capacity through gifts to endowment funds. We’ve also requested financial backing to elevate humanities programs and events like the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Our supporters have responded emphatically to our calls to help build cultural capital during these challenging times. They’ve reached deep into their pockets to help us bring multiple Pulitzer Prize-winning authors to the Festival of Books, provide thousands of books to elementary school children and move us closer to our long-term goals.

In FY 2017, we received $322,000 in donations, nearly $100,000 more than our total in 2016.

Thank you to our donors who continue to make a difference at the South Dakota Humanities Council by contributing to our Endowment Incentive funds, South Dakota Festival of Books, and the Young Readers 1-1 Match. Because of our donors’ generosity, we’re well on our way to reaching or exceeding multiple fundraising goals, including matching goals at the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation and the South Dakota Community Foundation, as well as a Young Readers Challenge match. (If you’d like to help us meet these goals, click here to find out more.)

We’ve just received an $80,000 gift that will propel our organization into 2018. We’re excited to use these funds to provide more quality programming in the next year, from the South Dakota Festival of Books to statewide grant programs, our Young Readers Initiative and more.

We are thankful for our sponsors and donors.

2. Board Members, Volunteers and Others Who Make our Events Possible

Festival of Books volunteer Kerri Thompson prepares cake for the celebration of SDHC's 45th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of the Festival of Books held at Exhibitors' Hall at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center.

Festival of Books volunteer Kerri Thompson prepares cake for the celebration of SDHC's 45th anniversary and the 15th anniversary of the Festival of Books held at Exhibitors' Hall at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center.

The 18-member South Dakota Humanities Council Board of Directors donates countless hours to board meetings, evening and weekend programs and fundraising/advocacy throughout the year.

Our board members do everything from traveling to our nation’s capital to advocate on our behalf to writing blog posts to help promote our cause.

Our 18-member board includes Eric Abrahamson, Dick Brown, Cathy Clark, Darlene Farabee, Tom Fishback, Karen Hall, Katie Hunhoff, Julie Johnson, Russell McKnight, James E. McMahon, Judith Meierhenry, Julie Moore Peterson, Scott Rausch, Whitney Rencountre, Vonnie Shields, Tamara St. John, Kristi Tornquist and David Wolff.

SDHC board chair Judith Meierhenry presents the 2017 Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award to Danita Simons of the United Way of the Black Hills, which was awarded for its Rapid City Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Initiative. The ceremony was held at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center.

SDHC board chair Judith Meierhenry presents the 2017 Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award to Danita Simons of the United Way of the Black Hills, which was awarded for its Rapid City Campaign for Grade-Level Reading Initiative. The ceremony was held at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center. Meierhenry also contributed to the SDHC "Why the Humanities" blog series. 

As a non-profit organization, we rely on board members and other volunteers to help us run the statewide South Dakota Festival of Books. Volunteers chauffeur authors, moderate sessions, run our information booth and comprise the steering committee that helps plan the event. 

We are thankful for our board members and volunteers. 

3. The NEH and Federal/State Partnership

Patricia N. Williamsen, Executive Director of the Ohio Humanities Council, spoke at the 2017 National Humanities Conference.

The National Endowment for the Humanities provides annual support for 56 states and territories to help support some 56,000 lectures, discussions, exhibitions and other programs each year for various organizations and state councils, including the South Dakota Humanities Council. The Federal/State Partnership is the NEH office designated to work with the councils. The Federal/State Partnership encourages councils to produce and support humanities programming.

The NEH annually supports our Festival of Books and other SDHC programs.

We've been fortunate to collaborate with NEH on extraordinary projects, including the 2017 "Humanities and the Legacy of Race and Ethnicity in the U.S." initiative that led to our programming theme of "Race and Civility." 

Author S.D. Nelson holds up a copy of his book during “Black Elk's Legacy in South Dakota & Beyond,” a panel discussion about “Black Elk Speaks” on Sept. 23 of the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center, part of SDHC’s 2017 “Race and Civility” initiative. Also participating were authors Philip Deloria and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.

Author S.D. Nelson holds up a copy of his book during "Black Elk's Legacy in South Dakota & Beyond," a panel discussion about "Black Elk Speaks" on Sept. 23 of the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books at the Deadwood Mountain Grand Event Center, part of SDHC's 2017 "Race and Civility" initiative. Also participating were authors Philip Deloria and Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve.

This year we also earned an NEH grant with a 1-to-1 match of funds received up to $100,000 for our Young Readers Initiative, which helps us bring acclaimed children's authors to South Dakota and provide books for thousands of elementary students.

We are thankful for the NEH and Federal/State Partnership.

4. Talented Authors and Speakers Who Make our Events Excellent

Tim O'Brien appeared at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

Vietnam War novelist Tim O'Brien shows South Dakota Public Broadcasting's Fritz Miller where O'Brien served in the Vietnam War on a map in Exhibitors' Hall at the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books.

2017 was a banner year for the South Dakota Humanities Council's annual Festival of Books. We were honored to host Pulitzer Prize winners and New York Times bestselling authors from around the country, talented South Dakota writers and an author whose Vietnam War novels are required reading in high schools around the U.S.

Readers traveled from far and wide to the Festival to see Tim O'Brien, who won the National Book Award for his fiction masterpiece, "Going After Cacciato," and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for "The Things They Carried." O'Brien enlightened audience members – many of whom were assigned his books as high school students – with anecdotes about Ernest Hemingway, his writing, and life in general.

He was joined by fellow Vietnam Veteran author Robert Olen Butler, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of stories about the aftermath of the Vietnam War, "A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain."

J. Ryan Stradal, a television producer-turned novelist whose debut work "Kitchens of the Great Midwest" took the fiction world by storm, entertained thousands of people as the 2017 One Book South Dakota author. Stradal traveled throughout the state before the Festival to explain the intricacies of the characters and plot points of the "foodie" novel.

South Dakota authors like Joseph Bottum, Patrick Hicks, Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve and Nancy Koupal led engaging sessions on Midwest literature, politics, poetry, and more.

To be able to bring such talented creators to our state – and have many others who reside here among us - is something to be thankful for, indeed. We are thankful for the many talented writers and illustrators who were part of South Dakota Humanities Council programming in 2017.

5. Determined Advocates

Steve Sanford's

Former SDHC board member Steve Sanford, a contributor to our "Why the Humanities" blog series, introduces former National Poet Laureate Ted Kooser at the South Dakota Festival of Books.

We faced many challenges in 2017, as preliminary budgets proposed discontinuing funding for the NEH. We eventually received funding through a continuing resolution, thanks in part to our allies and advocates in South Dakota and beyond.

Our supporters advocated on our behalf by writing and calling their congressional representatives, writing letters to the editor, supporting us on social media and more.

We were also fortunate to receive eloquently written posts for our blog series "Why the Humanities." The series, created in the face of funding cuts, explained the importance of the humanities to our state and nation. It was authored by South Dakotans who are experts in the humanities and those who have been touched by humanities programming.

We were honored not only to receive this type of support but also to hear just how important our programs are to our supporters, with quotes like:

"The humanities is fully half of our human existence. The pursuit of accomplishments of science and technology must be in the companionship of care for our human selves. This is no argument, but instead the reality we know in our hearts—the smithies of our souls." - Former SDHC board member Steve Sanford

Sanford also wrote an advocacy letter to Congress that was referred to during crucial deliberations of the Interior Committee as they worked toward a federal budget.

We are thankful for our determined advocates.

Happy Thanksgiving

We hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. Want to learn more about what we do throughout the year and what’s in store for 2018? Subscribe to our email list below.