The Year of COVID-19 – South Dakota Humanities Council Celebrates End of Year Highlights After a Difficult Year

SDHC's 2020 EOY Highlights

While most people would agree that 2020 presented more than its share of challenges, it also provided positive moments. At the South Dakota Humanities Council, we were able to provide funding to organizations struggling to maintain operations during the coronavirus pandemic, connect people in new and exciting ways through virtual platforms, and much more.

As you turn the calendar to a new year, check out the South Dakota Humanities Council's end of year highlights.

1. Virtual Festival Proves the Written Word Can Still Unite Us

It was an unusual year and an unusual South Dakota Festival of Books. The event, like everything else in 2020, was turned on its ear by the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the "new normal" version of the South Dakota Festival of Books, unveiled as the Virtual 2020 Festival, proved that the written word is still crucial to American culture and retains the power to unite us. For many participants, the Virtual Festival served as a reprieve from the pandemic rather than a restrictive measure necessitated by it.

More than 60 local, regional and national authors were the stars of Zoom rooms," where self-expression was celebrated, as were anecdotes, poems, feelings, inspiration. From the nationally famous – World War Z author Max Brooks discussing his book that became a blockbuster hit starring Brad Pitt – to regional talents like Sioux Falls poet Dana Yost, who shared heartfelt verses about his experiences with mental health challenges, the event provided a welcome dose of humanity.

Readers logged in to hear new points of view. Smiling faces populated Zoom rooms, participants patiently waiting to hear about a new book or listen to a poem. Comments filled the Zoom chat section, where people typed in their questions and musings and received responses from presenting authors. Participants in these online conversations were considerate and reflective.

How did the written word provide a sanctuary? Perhaps sincerity is the key. Many presentations began with presenters saying, "I'm really sorry we can't gather in person." They meant it.

Authors, thoughtful and solitary, bury themselves in words, emerging every few years with 50-100,000 of them published in a book. The opportunity to meet people in person, to be "out in the world," can be especially rewarding. This year authors were grateful to meet readers virtually. Readers, equally grateful, were attentive as the authors discussed their creative work.

Contemplation is required for any level of understanding, and that is what the Virtual 2020 South Dakota Festival of Books afforded: an opportunity to understand and an exercise in compassion, empathy and patience. To watch recorded sessions from the 2020 Virtual Festival of Books, please visit


2. SDHC Creates Discussion Program in Light of Nationwide Civic Unrest

To address civic unrest resulting from the George Floyd incident in Minneapolis, and to encourage civil conversation about racial bias and other divisive issues, the South Dakota Humanities Council created a weekly discussion program.

SDHC tapped longtime scholar Lawrence Diggs, who specializes in connecting people, to host "Brainstorming: The Human Connection." Free and open to anybody who has a Zoom account , the program unites strangers to help facilitate discussions about civic concerns.

The program has been very well-received, with numerous participants returning regularly. One participant said the program is the "highlight of my week." Special guests have included noted author Carson Vaughan, peace educator Alphonse Keasley, as well as the Aberdeen Police Chief and other South Dakota leaders. Participants see the program as a lifeline, as many are quarantined in their homes with little or no human contact.

"We can provide a humanities-based exchange to the public," said SDHC executive director Ann Volin. "This program aims to help heal communities and facilitate meaningful conversations in light of the current nationwide circumstances."

The program introduces and connects people to help avoid tragic misunderstandings like the George Floyd incident.  

"Humans are feeling beings that think, not thinking beings that feel," Diggs said. "The motivation we feel to connect with others comes more from what we feel about them than what we think about them."

Each session is focused on a particular topic, which in 2020 included subjects such as The Lives of Muslim Women in the United States, Personal Relationships and Politics, Peace Education, The Place of Poetry in Changing Society and many more. Learn more and find the upcoming schedule at

3. 2020 Distinguished Achievement Award Winners Announced

We always enjoy honoring our special constituents who make valuable contributions to humanities programming in South Dakota. Winners of the Distinguished Achievement in the Humanities Awards are selected based on their outstanding commitment to scholarly and cultural advocacy around South Dakota, as demonstrated by presenting humanities-related events and programs, writing books and publications important to the humanities and providing funding or partnerships to sustain a vibrant cultural landscape.

Our 2020 winners were announced during a special ceremony at the Virtual 2020 Festival, which you can watch in full at

2020 Winners

Daria Bossman of Pierre serves as the South Dakota State Librarian. She previously held the position of Assistant State Librarian for Development, becoming State Librarian in March of 2013. Prior to this, she was the Library Director at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, for fifteen years. Bossman has been an educator and librarian for 40 years in Oklahoma, Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota. She is a community leader and volunteer and has helped local South Dakota libraries (many rural) connect with numerous SDHC events, including annual One Book South Dakota discussions and One Book author tour events. Under her direction, the State Library has been a conduit for the distribution of dozens of SDHC book titles to rural schools and public libraries that otherwise could not afford to purchase new books.

Nancy Wehrkamp of Sioux Falls is currently the Director of Programming at Active Generations (AG) in Sioux Falls and was previously the Director of Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) for the state of South Dakota. She has passionately focused much of her professional life on education (as an administrator, educator and counselor for all age levels – early childhood to retired seniors) and enhancing the quality of life for individuals in the state of South Dakota. She is a strong advocate for lifelong learning and a promotor of the South Dakota Humanities Council, valuing its contributions and work. Throughout her work with OLLI as well as AG, she has led efforts to coordinate and host many SDHC programs, including scholar presentations and book discussions; served as a Festival of Books partner; and provided in-kind donations of space, staff, and volunteers. Nancy's motto for life: Live Learn Laugh Love Life!

As a Festival of Books partner, the Children's Museum of South Dakota in Brookings has hosted the Young Readers Festival on three different occasions: 2014, 2016, and 2018. By providing in- kind donations of space, staff, and volunteers, the Museum has helped contribute to the success of the festival. The Museum is a longtime supporter of the humanities, promoting learning for children of all ages and abilities through interactive, informal, hands-on exhibits and programming. They live daily by their mission to spark imagination for all children and their grown-ups through play, creativity, and discovery.

4. SDHC Distributes $400K in CARES Grants to SD Organizations

Many businesses struggled in 2020, but among the hardest hit were entities that rely on in-person visitors: museums, libraries and other organizations. The South Dakota Humanities Council stepped in to help, giving more than $400,000 to cultural organizations.

The CARES grants, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and administered by SDHC, provided unrestricted operating support, humanities program support, or both to qualifying humanities organizations. The money helped keep these valuable entities afloat as they scrambled to accommodate coronavirus-related restrictions.

The grants were part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act economic stabilization plan. Awards were determined, in part, by financial need and operating budget.

Click here to read our feature story about how organizations were helped by the CARES Act funding.

5. Veterans Contest Winners Honored at Virtual Festival Event

The South Dakota Humanities Council was proud to honor South Dakota Veterans with the 2020 Veterans Story Contest, which resulted in memorable entries.

The contest, created to help veterans process war experiences through storytelling, called for entries from current or past service members who live in South Dakota. The 2020 winner was U.S. Army veteran Jill Baker of Sioux Falls, who received the $500 prize for her first-place poetry collection, "The Trigger Collection."

Baker, a U.S. Army veteran with PTSD , said her winning collection was curated from "tangled webs of messy emotions that I used to help me unravel the discord one step at a time. I am sharing them in chronological order as a way to demonstrate the process I took to help me work through months of harrowing days as a triggered veteran." In second place was Dr. Tony Garcia for his story, "Short," while Dawn Jones came in third for "Timing Beyond Our Control." The top three read their stories in a Zoom event moderated by U.S. Navy veteran and 2020 Festival presenter Jerri Bell.

For more information, visit

Learn More

SDHC would like to offer a heartfelt thank you to everyone who in 2020 participated in humanities council programs and donated their time and money. Despite the hardships, it was a year to remember. If you'd like to learn more about the programs we have to offer, please click below to subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter.