South Dakota Humanities Council Executive Director to Retire

Sherry DeBoer (right) pictured with SDHC board chair Judith Meierhenry and Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron during the kickoff event at the Al Neuharth Media Center for the 2018 SDHC "Democracy and the Informed Citizen" initiative.

DeBoer Retiring in December

The Board of Directors of the South Dakota Humanities Council announced today that Executive Director Sherry DeBoer will retire in December 2018. Chairwoman Judith Meierhenry said the board will begin the search for DeBoer's replacement this summer and hopes to have a new chief executive in place by end of the year. The full job description and application information can be found here. 

Founded in 1972 in response to an act of Congress, the South Dakota Humanities Council (SDHC) is the only cultural organization in the state whose sole mission is to deliver humanities programming to the people of South Dakota.

With support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, a federal agency, and organizations and individuals from throughout the state, the Brookings-based organization "celebrates literature, promotes civil conversation, and tells the stories that define the people of South Dakota."

A passionate reader and champion for the humanities, DeBoer grew up on a South Dakota farm and as a child used to "check out sacks of books from the old Carnegie Library in Brookings." She graduated from South Dakota State University and began her career at the South Dakota Humanities Council in 1987 as a part-time data entry assistant.

SDHC executive director Sherry DeBoer.

Launching the 'Jewel in the State's Crown'

In 2003, she became director of SDHC's Center for the Book and deputy director of SDHC. In this role she launched the enormously popular annual South Dakota Festival of Books, which the National Endowment for the Humanities recently described as "the jewel in the state's crown" of achievements in the humanities.

Given her success in building partnerships across the state for the Festival, DeBoer was the board's natural choice for executive director in 2007. Over the last eleven years, she has played a major role in promoting collaborative efforts to promote reading and literature including the Festival of Books, the Young Readers Initiative, and the annual One Book South Dakota projectThe Council has also supported readers and writers by encouraging local book clubs and promoting the Veterans Writing Prize. With support from the Mellon Foundation and the Pulitzer Prize Committee, SDHC has also brought Pulitzer-winning authors to the state to celebrate excellence in the literary arts.

Sherry DeBoer with a group made up of donors, SDHC board members and the NEH Assessment team during a site visit in 2016.

Sherry DeBoer with a group made up of partners, SDHC board members, the NEH Assessment team from Virginia and North Dakota, and the NEH Federal State Partnership Director during a site visit in 2016.

Accomplished Fundraiser

An accomplished fundraiser, DeBoer has helped the organization move to greater financial stability by increasing the endowments that benefit the Council from just under $1 million in 2009 to more than $2.5 million by the end of the second quarter of 2018. During her tenure with the Council, she helped raise funds to earn nearly $1 million in challenge grants offered by the NEH. In 2017, annual support for SDHC topped $322,000.

"Sherry's dedication and enthusiasm over the course of a thirty-one-year career have helped make the South Dakota Humanities Council one of the best in the country," says Meierhenry. DeBoer has also represented the state as a member of the Federation of State Humanities Councils, helping to shape federal policy for the humanities.

Sherry DeBoer and a group of Egyptian Exchange students that were part of an SDHC program in 2010.

Sherry DeBoer and a group of Egyptian Exchange students at a farm near Sinai. The tour was part of the SDHC program—the US/Egypt Big Read in 2010.

Supporting Initiatives Throughout the State

With a staff of four full-time employees, the South Dakota Humanities Council supports local humanities initiatives throughout the state. The Council's Speakers Bureau helps communities host fascinating and informative humanities events. Last year, the Council awarded over $151,000 in grants, including One-Stop programs, to support local humanities programs. On an annual basis, the Council also facilitates and encourages civil conversations on tough, but important topics ranging from racial reconciliation to the crisis in trust in journalism. 

Sherry DeBoer (middle) poses with author William Kent Krueger and former SDHC board member Jean Nicholson during the South Dakota Festival of Books.

Sherry DeBoer (middle) poses with author William Kent Krueger and former SDHC board member Jean Nicholson during the 2017 South Dakota Festival of Books in Deadwood. Krueger and Nicholson were winners of the Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Award.

Find Out More About the South Dakota Humanities Council

Interested in learning more about the South Dakota Humanities Council? Additional information about the organization can be found at