South Dakota values were central to the stories of 10 inductees into the state’s hall of fame recently in Chamberlain.
Speeches were given and laughter and tears filled the room as the men and women honored accepted their place in the South Dakota Hall of Fame.
But one inductee, Bev Warne, captivated the audience at Cedar Shores Resort as she spoke of the challenges faced by Native Americans.
Warne, now 83, most recently is known for creating the Native American Nursing Education Center in Rapid City. It is part of South Dakota State University’s School of Nursing and is designed to increase the number of Native American nurses.
After retiring from Arizona State University in 2009, she moved to Rapid City where SDSU quickly approached her and asked her to create a program similar to one she had developed at ASU “because our students were dropping out at a rate that was unacceptable.”
She agreed because she understood the cause.
“The dropout rate was not due to academics and buildings. It was poverty," she said.
Native students struggled with food, gas and shelter and often dropped out to work, hoping to return, though most did not.
That poverty has helped create many health disparities between Native Americans and non-natives.
“And if we all learn our history,” she said, “we know that there’s a reason for everything and our health disparities are all preventable.”
Warne understands those challenges because she experienced them as a child.
She told the crowd that after her father returned from World War II, they moved from Pine Ridge to Rapid City because he and others had heard there were jobs available.
“They also must have heard that they wouldn’t rent to us, so they pitched their tents along Rapid Creek," Warne said.
One day, her father took her into downtown Rapid City, an exciting experience for a young girl.
“I was reading some of the signs and the one that startled me was in a retail store that said no Indians allowed,” she said. “I stopped short. I knew what that meant.”
She asked her father why someone would post such a sign.
He told her it was “because they don’t know us,” she told the quiet hall of fame audience.
“I would venture the majority of people still don’t know us,” she said.
Warne spoke of how her grandfather would wake the children every morning with drumming and then sing morning prayers, basically whatever was on his heart.
He then would sing about the seven Lakota values of fortitude, wisdom, courage, generosity, honor, respect and humility.
“I’ve heard that word (humility) several times tonight,” she said of the acceptance speeches delivered by or for the other nine inductees – Randall Beck, Dennis Daugaard, Paul Gnirk, Charles Hart, Shantell Krebs, Grace Martin Highley, Tad Perry, Ron Reed and Mark Shlanta. “And it makes me very happy that people know the value of humility.
“That’s how I live my life – based on those values,” she said.
So do her two sons, who were in attendance. They have followed their mother’s path in fighting to improve Native American life.
“I’m grateful to my sons for the work that they do in reducing health disparities and improving the health of native people throughout the country," Warne said.
One son, Dr. Donald Warne, on Sept. 1 joined Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health as co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health.
The other son, Jim Warne, is a former NFL player, motivational speaker, actor, Emmy-nominated filmmaker and consultant based in the San Diego area.
His most recent film, "Remember the Children," honors the missing children of the Rapid City Indian Boarding School.
Bev Warne challenged everyone to use their talents and values to make a difference.
“So many of the inductees tonight talked about what they did with bravery,” she said.
“I always take the opportunity when I am talking to a group of people” to encourage them to act. “Whatever it is in the slice of that pie of giving and growing, just take a sliver of it and do what you can every day.”
Brad Johnson is a Watertown businessman and journalist who is active in state and local affairs.
This article originally appeared on Watertown Public Opinion: South Dakota Hall of Fame inducts 10 people including Beverly Warne