Meet the 2023 Spirit of Dakota nominees

Courtesy photos L to R: Jennifer Luper-Lark, Jeannie Hofer, Judy Winegar, Juanita Delbridge

South Dakota’s premier woman’s award inspired by Dale Lamphere’s bronze, Spirit of Dakota, will be presented Saturday, October 7,  at the Huron Event Center beginning with an art show at 4 p.m., social 5:30 p.m. and banquet 6:30.

The award is given to a woman who demonstrates leadership, vision, courage and strength of character; and by her example, inspires others to make a difference in their community and state.

Tickets for the banquet may be purchased at the Huron Chamber Office: 605-352-0000 or 1-800-487-6673.

Jennifer Luper-Lark, Huron
“Jennifer is a life-long learner who is always researching ways to help our patients. This past spring, she wrote a grant for Camp Concussion. This camp educates parents and student athletes in the causes, symptoms and treatments of concussions and furnished participating athletes with a Q-collar which greatly reduces the risk of concussions.” Dr. Joseph N. Carr.

A certified athletic trainer, this working mother of two young sons is also pursuing a doctorate in athletic training with an emphasis in neurologic injuries. Jennifer “Jeni” Luper-Lark grew up in Tulsa, Okla., where she competed in recreational and high school softball teams. She studied Sports Medicine at Tulsa Technology Center and went on to earn a Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Tulsa.

Jeni and husband, Tahj, moved to S.D. so Jeni could earn a Master’s Degree in Education Administration at Dakota Wesleyan University. While at DWU, she worked as a DWU athletic trainer and helped open the DWU/Avera Sports and Wellness Complex in early 2016. After graduation, when husband Tahj became a detective in the Huron Police Department, they moved to Huron. Jeni commuted to Fort Thompson working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She provided elderly and disabled patients with physical rehabilitation, general patient and diabetic care, and worked with athletes in the schools.

An appointment with the Carr Chiropractic Clinic led to her joining their team and working in their clinics in Huron, Miller and Faulkton. Jeni serves the Greater Huron United Way as a board member.  She is the executive secretary for the South Dakota Peace Officers Association, and assists in the many community activities sponsored by the Carr Chiropractic Clinics.

Luper-Lark’s combined roles as mother, athletic trainer, and doctoral student led her to write a grant proposal which resulted in the development of Camp Concussion. The grant funded a partnership between the South Dakota Department of Health and Carr Chiropractic Clinic and provided each camp participant with a Q-Collar that helps prevent concussions.

While Jennifer is always supportive of people and families who serve the Huron, Miller and Faulkton communities, her greatest strength is in being a mother and fostering her sons’ imagination and creativity. In all that she does, she seeks the best for the communities she and Tahj call home.

Jennifer Luper-Lark and her husband Tahj and sons Teddy and Tucker live in Huron. She was nominated by her mother, Brenda Luper.

Jeannie Hofer, Huron
“Jeannie Hofer is the Humane Society for humans and is one of the hardest workers and kindest souls I have ever met. I cannot count the number of people, including myself, that she has helped. Whether someone needs housing, help to cover their basic needs, or just a shoulder to lean on, Jeannie makes it happen. What is even more unique is that she asks each person to hold themselves accountable, wanting them to become a better version of themselves., not only for their own sake, but for the sake of the community as well.” Dana Stillman.

Jeannie Hofer is a member of the Bethesda Church, the Red Hatter’s Society, and works at the family-run A1 Body Shop. She also operates Jeannie’s Rentals providing safe and affordable housing in the Huron area. “She is a generational figure of leadership and strength,” states Nicole Erasmus in the nomination.

The third of nine children born to parents with severe alcoholism, Jeannie always knew there was more to life. She became a caretaker and developed the leadership skills needed to make sure her siblings were cared for and fed. When an aunt and uncle took Jeannie and her siblings in, it gave Jeannie the power of seeing the world through a new lens. That lens that made clear that every child deserves stability, love and warmth.

Jeannie is landlord to many, but her compassion and honesty set her apart from other landlords. For years she has helped clothe tenants and their children. When any woman calls for help, Jeannie first asks, “Are you safe? Are your children safe?” She has helped many women leave dangerous households and get their children to safety.

Hofer has been involved with the Jan Manolis Family Safe Center for over 20 years. She has carried the hotline phone, transported victims’ kids to school, driven victims to work and counseling, cleaned and maintained the shelter, run rummage sales, sold tickets to fundraisers, and more. Jeannie prefers to work in the background, not wanting attention for what she does.

Her philanthropic efforts pale in comparison to her love for family and friends who call her “Mother Hofer” or “Grandma Jeannie.”

Jeannie and her husband Wayne have three children Melissa, Jennifer and Michael.

She was nominated by Nicole Erasmus.

Judy Winegar, Wessington Springs
From raising sheep, cattle, horses, buffalo, corn, wheat, and other crops, Judy Winegar has exhibited a true South Dakota mentality spending decades of hard work to cultivate kids, crops and community. It has been her life’s mission. Eileen Schooler.

Judy Winegar was the second of six children raised on the prairies of Jerauld County. This gave her an ingrained appreciation and respect for her family. They got electricity when she was 11, and running water in 1957— the year she graduated from high school.

She graduated from Wessington Springs High School and completed a secretarial course in Huron. She and husband Ralph raised five daughters—Rhonda Behrens, Eileen Schooler, Rosemary Jensen, Patti Jo Melhaf, and Becky Eggebrecht. These daughters and their children inherited Judy’s passion for education amassing a collective 19 college degrees — from associate degrees to doctorate degrees. In addition to their farm/ranch operation, the Winegars also operated a bed and breakfast for pheasant hunters, making many lifelong friendships.

She joined the American Legion Auxiliary when Ralph served in the South Dakota National guards. This 41-year member is the current president of the Wessington Springs Chapter. She is past president of both American Legion Auxiliary Unit 14 and District 6. Judy has chaired the Poppy Committee, placed American flags in the local Flanders Fields, and promoted Girls’ State and Legion Essay Contests.

Winegar was also active in 4-H leadership. She served the Jaycettes as State Secretary/Treasurer, chaired the Jerault County Democrats, co-chaired the SD Centennial Committee in Wessington Springs, taught Christian education classes, as well as being a member of the National Farmers’ Organization and the Dunham Historical Society Museum. Judy is also an avid bowler. She and four bowling partners rolled their way to the Women’s International Bowling Congress’ 1986 National Championship.

Now in her eighth decade, Judy continues to be active in her community. Currently she is president of the Wessington Springs Senior Center and Nutrition Site, and the Wessington Springs Alumni Association. “She has lived her life with a passion for helping others and for preserving the history of our community,” stated Brian Bergeleen, mayor of Wessington Springs.

Judy Winegar was nominated by daughter Eileen Schooler and grandson Colin Tobin.

Juanita Delbridge, Union Center
“Juanita Delbridge rises to the daily challenges of being the solo operator of a ranch. She meets those challenges with a dogged determination to be a good steward of the land and a good neighbor to those in the community around her. She is a testament to the vision, courage, and strength of character that women have played in shaping the future of South Dakota.” Beverly Rosenboom.      

From parents who operated the Red Owl Store and Post Office, Juanita Delbridge learned that helping others outweighs personal gain. Juanita’s busy hands have helped families undergoing hardship.

Juanita and Lyle purchased a ranch and worked side by side to learn cow/calf production, crop growth and management and stewardship of the land. Since losing her husband of 43 years, she has been the sole owner, manager, laborer, and bookkeeper of the well-run ranch’s cow/calf operation of 200+ cows and 3000+ acres.

Juanita knows that managing ranch land is a dance between production and protection. She understands that the prairie land of South Dakota must be valued for the resource that it is and managed in a way that guarantees its existence for future generations.

She was known to work with struggling students after school and then drive them home before returning to her home where chores waited.

Juanita Delbridge’s children are Kendra Hanks, Shane Delbridge, Chet Delbridge, and Kelsey Dominguez. She was nominated by Beverly Rosenboom.

L to R: Waldraut Seigle Matush, Amanda Nolz Radke, Julie Bell, Jamie Lee Seiner

Waldraut “Wally” Seigle Matush, Hill City
For those of us who live and work in Hill City, there’s no better living example of love, joy in work, leadership by example — along with what the Germans call ‘Gemutlichkeit’ (a warm atmosphere), than that which surrounds us and emanates from the heart of the lady we fondly call ‘Wally. The Hill City Prevailer, 2015.

Waldraut “Wally” Matush’s journey began in Germany. She married Richard Matush and they moved to South Dakota’s Black Hills. Wally came to America with a dream.  

In 1974, she purchased the Harney Peak Hotel with two partners. They operated it as a bed and breakfast, featuring an ice cream shop, a German deli, and several independently operated shops.

When Wally became the sole owner, she became responsible for every aspect of the business, from running the restaurant.

Her can do determination transformed the historic Harney Peak Hotel into the Alpine Inn. When Huron restauranter Rollie Sanderson suggested that Wally center her menu singularly on steak, Wally transformed her dinner menu.

Wally has a five-decade legacy of helping others because others gave her a chance. She built Old World Plaza with reasonable rents and spaces for shops to help small businesses get started. Wally says, “It is good for Hill City — a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Wally Matush’s children are Monika Matush, Michael Matush, and Debbie Kenaston. Wally was nominated by Janet Wetovick-Bily, Director of the Hill City Area Chamber of Commerce.

Amanda Nolz Radke, Mitchell
“I first heard her speak to a group of Limousin breeders at the South Dakota Limousin Association meeting in Rapid City, SD in 1998. She was 8 years old. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. She has gone on to speak in 48 states, in 5 Canadian provinces, and on 4 continents. Who in today’s fast paced world can be a wife, a nationally recognized speaker, and stellar mother of 4 kids under the age of 8? Only Amanda Radke.” Trent Loos.

A graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in Ag Communications and Spanish, Amanda Nolz Radke is an agricultural woman who lives and promotes the farm/ranch lifestyle.

Amanda is licensed with the S.D. Department of Social Services and has fostered 12 children in the past three years. When she and husband Tyler adopted a foster son, their family grew to six.

Amanda is an accomplished children’s author. Her seven books help connect today’s youth with agriculture. When she volunteers as an author/reader for the Mitchell Public Library’s summertime reading programs, farm animals often accompany her increasing the authenticity of the experience. She works closely with the South Dakota Beef Council and the South Dakota Soil Coalition to ensure the accuracy of her books. She read her books to more than 5,000 youngsters in 2022.  She sells her books, western jewelry, clothing, and farm toys in her online retail business.

She promoted South Dakota internationally by speaking at the United Nations Food Summit — the only beef producer invited to speak.

Amanda and Tyler Radke have four children: Scarlett, Thorne, Alex, and Croix. Amanda was nominated by Robert B. Everson, Mayor of Mitchell.

Julie Bell, Brookings
Julie Bell is a master gardener of community service. At South Dakota State University, she planted seeds of community service in her education majors and FCCLAers. In training them to implement service, her seeds became an abundant harvest of hundreds of community service projects carried out annually. Joan G. Anderson.

During her four-decade career, Julie Bell was the state adviser to the Future Homemakers of America (FHA). When the organization transitioned nationally to Family, Career, Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), Julie worked with its nearly 100 South Dakota chapters to organize leadership training camps and annual state leadership meetings.  

The FCCLA harvest reaped from Julie’s work includes: In Redfield 32 FCCLAers raised $3,200 for organizations fighting childhood cancer.

Mitchell High Schooler, DJ Smith developed a suicide prevention project called Lost and Found in 2010. Upon entering USD, he recruited five others to join him in continuing the project. They became a board of directors with a zero budget. Today Lost and Found serves 13 S.D. and Minnesota college campuses providing 2.3 million young adults with online mental health resources.

Collaborating with 150+ organizations, Lost and Found has a staff of 13 and a budget of $1.1 million,” reports Erik Muckey, CEO.
Julie and Robert Bell live in Brookings. She was nominated, Joan G. Anderson, Kris Brockhoft, Dr. Deb DeBates, Jean Clarke and Bev Rieck.

Jamie Lee Seiner, Pierre
“Every community needs a Jamie Seiner. She is a super volunteer who has dedicated her personal and professional life to helping her community.” “She embodies the mentality of selfless service in her daily life and is a strong ambassador for enhancing everyone’s quality of life,” write Christine Oey and Aaron Fabel.

“While she is not a native South Dakotan, Jamie Lee Seiner has taken to this state like a rooster pheasant to our habitat,” states her husband, Buddy. She fell in love with South Dakota and with Buddy while attending South Dakota State University. The remote prairie landscapes, the clean Missouri River waters, and the winding trail systems near Pierre have become her forever home.

While serving as director of the South Dakota SHINE (Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders) program, she coordinated the efforts of 423 volunteers and contracted partners moving the program from being rated as 26th in the nation to being in the top 3.

As CEO of the Pierre Area Chamber of Commerce & Convention and Visitor Bureau, she helped establish new programs, partnerships, and industry to promote economic growth. Her Loyal2Local campaign, which began in 2018, remains a cornerstone of Chamber operations today. She also helped bring the inaugural class of Leadership Pierre to fruition.

Committed to youth, Jaime coaches T.F. Riggs High School trap shooting team and is a mentor in the Junior Achievement Program.

Jamie and her husband Buddy have three children: Lillian, Mya, and Grayson. She was nominated by Buddy Seiner.

L to R: Kathy Larsen, Lynn Hanson, Mary Lou Gruebele, Stephanie Judson

Kathy Larsen, Brookings
“Committed beyond measure to supporting and improving the thriving community of Brookings, and its arts, social, and educational experiences, Kathy Larson is always willing to take on a challenge. Even when things seem impossible, she figures out how to make them work. She makes the ordinary extraordinary, not for herself, but for the communities she willingly and boldly serves.” Jennifer Larsen Newburg.

Kathy Larsen is one of South Dakota State University’s most active volunteers. She provides unique services, enhances events, and solves challenges. At SDSU, it is known that if you want something to happen, this organizer/leader will willingly help. Her volunteer projects usually center around sewing.  

Since 1997, Kathy has been the force in measuring, ordering, assembling, altering, hemming and repairing uniforms and costumes for SDSU’s instrumental and vocal music departments. This entails working with the 300 members of the Pride of the Dakotas Marching Band, the 250 members of SDSU Music Choral Department. She also assists the Theatre Department.

As an on-going fundraiser and community-building project, Kathy began transforming retired 1980-2022 Pride of Dakota Marching Band uniforms into treasured pillows. Thus far, $11,000 has been raised for the marching band; Kathy is still sewing!

She has been a board member of the Brookings Arts Council for 10 years, plays clarinet in the Brookings Community Band and is the drum major who leads the Children’s March.  

Kathy and her husband Jay Larsen have two daughters, Jennifer Larsen Newburg and Katie Vander Sander, and four grandchildren.

She was nominated by Jennifer Larsen Newburg and Sue Knutzen.

Lynn Hanson, Aberdeen
“You’ll rarely attend an Aberdeen school event without seeing Lynn Hanson in attendance, likely seated in a chair emblazoned “Lynn Hanson’s Seat.” The chair, brought from the old high school, was the one she occupied, without fail, for decades as her four children —Vicki, Shawn, Craig and Troy — grew up in Aberdeen Public Schools. She led the drive to build a state-of-the-art high school in Aberdeen, recognizing the need for an expanded facility in which evolving technology could be integrated to prepare Aberdeen kids for “real world utility.” Kari Krein and Tami Kautz Bremer.

Lynn Hanson’s love for education began in the Davis School near Columbia. Lynn graduated from Columbia High School and from the Aberdeen School of Commerce.  

In addition to raising her family, she co-owned a local retail business, managed an independent medical clinic of family doctors, and is an active member of Bethlehem Lutheran Church.

Her commitment to the Aberdeen School District began as a PTA member when her children were small. She served the Aberdeen Board of Education from 1985-2000. In 1989, she was elected to the South Dakota High School Activities Association, and received their Distinguished Service Award.

In honor of her 80th birthday and her long-term commitment to the Aberdeen School District, Hanson’s children and families established the Lynn Hanson Endowment.

Each year, one community-minded Aberdeen Central High School female athlete receives a scholarship based on her academics and on her use of positive energy to influence others.

Lynn lives in Aberdeen. She was nominated by Gretchen Sharp.

Mary Lou Gruebele, Eureka
“Stay-at-home-mom Mary Lou definitely did not stay still. She had a way of finding joy and pleasure in everyday activities — gardening with her children, raising chickens, and helping with farm tasks. She passed these lessons in hard work, perseverance, and determination to her children who continue the family farm. Mary Lou is creative—a quilter, seamstress, poet, painter and pastor who is also renowned for dill pickles, and kuchen.”

On her 84th birthday in 2023, Pastor Mary Lou Gruebele gave her final sermon to the congregations of Selby United Church of Christ and Java St. Paul Lutheran Church. That day, she once again said, “God is good — all the time.”

Mary Lou Schnaible was a prairie child raised on a farm near Bowdle. She graduated from Bowdle High School and from Northern State Teachers College. Mary Lou taught one-room schools in the Pollock and Greenway areas. She left the classroom to marry Leo Gruebele. Together they raised three children. Leo died in 1993.

Mary Lou loves genealogy and preserving histories. In Leo’s memory, she authored Greenway Cemetery Directory, and Greenway, Volumes I and II.  Volume I, published in 1996, documents people buried in the Greenway Cemetery. Volume II contains the histories and stories of the German-Russian settlers. Maps and photographs document their businesses and schools.

After Leo’s death, Mary Lou pursued her life-long calling to ministry. Yankton College offered theological classes. Undeterred by the five-hour drive, she began several years of harrowing travel to earn an Associate of Theology Degree. Mary Lou provided on-call pulpit services to communities. At age 72, she became the full-time pastor of churches in Selby and Java. She also ministers to women prisoners and nursing home residents.

Mary Lou was nominated by her family, Kim Gruebele, Jeanne Gruebele Clark, Mark Gruebele and David Gruebel.

Stephanie Judson, Pierre
“From her humble beginnings on a farm in Sully County to her position as President and CEO of the South Dakota Community Foundation, Stephanie Judson’s dedication, compassion, and loyalty have made her a force for good things in our state. A working mother, her commitment to volunteer work and philanthropy, and her ability to inspire others to give back in meaningful ways have had a powerful impact on South Dakota.” Elizabeth Massa.

Stephanie Judson’s family fostered ideas that always emphasized helping her grandparents and great aunt with needed chores.

She majored in Business Communications with a minor in Gerontology and Geriatrics.

Stephanie has been a passionate servant of the South Dakota Community Foundation for over 25 years. She also earned Certified Financial Planner and Certified Gift Planning Associate accreditations to improve her ability to assist donors in meeting their charitable goals.

Stephanie and her husband Matt Judson live in Pierre. They have two sons, Grant and Blake, both students at universities in South Dakota.

She was nominated by Elizabeth Massa.