Between the Lines

Between the Lines
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 than the original.

But 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, the community, with the help of Eldon Nygaard of Valiant Vineyards and the local Jaycee chapter, managed to fashion a unique, entertaining experience.

Valiant Vineyards attracted scores of people to the community by staging its second annual wine festival.

Coinciding with that event, the Vermillion Jaycees celebrated our waning days of summer with a "Ribs, Rods and Rock 'n Roll" event over the Labor Day weekend.

The Jaycees, with the help of the local business community, offered a street dance/rock concert Saturday night, and a car show and barbecue rib cook-off in historic downtown Vermillion Sunday afternoon.

The wine festival and other activities � including a run/walk and bike ride to Spirit Mound � did what they were designed to do. They added new life to our community.

The activities reaffirmed the motto we've adopted to describe ourselves: "Vermillion � The Place to Be."

Why take such risks? Why go to all the planning and work to design a new venture that could, effectively, flop?

We 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 terrorism 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 weekend, people smelled wild flowers at Spirit Mound, and later sniffed the bouquet of a freshly-poured glass of wine.

Nerves were tingling in excitement at the DakotaDome Saturday afternoon as the Coyotes played their first home football game of the season.

People of all ages couldn't keep still as they reveled along with the high energy performance of the rock band Judd Hoos.

Sunday afternoon was a day for nostalgia, as scores of people, after visiting the winery, traveled to Main Street to view some of the most beautiful hot rods in the area. That evening, they were entertained by Mike Mortensen and other home-grown talent as they sampled unique barbecued pork and chicken.

Labor Day weekends typically have been rather sleepy affairs in Vermillion, a time when not much is going on.

Last weekend, it was easy to feel the pulse of a strong, vibrant community.

We can't help but predict a stronger and stronger pulse in years to come.

David Lias visited Spirit Mound, the DakotaDome, a rock concert, Valiant Vineyards, a car show and a barbecue cook-off last weekend. For a fun time, he suggests you do the same next year. You may contact him at

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