Gene Abdallah has dedicated nearly his entire adult life to serving the public. For nearly 50 years, Gene has served the public in multiple branches of government and nearly all branches of law enforcement, from federal to state to the local level. Perhaps no South Dakotan has had more of an impact on law enforcement than Gene.
Raised from humble roots, Gene was born on July 16, 1936. Incredibly, Gene’s father, George Abdallah, immigrated to the United States as an only child in 1894 from Syria at the tender age of 15. With no money in his pocket and no knowledge of the English language, Gene’s father found work – mostly as a laborer – in order to support himself. With this background, Gene was taught the importance of hard work and perseverance at a very early age.
Gene was the youngest of 9 children. He attended Sioux Falls Cathedral Catholic High School until the age of 17 when he left school to work full-time. Shortly thereafter, Gene’s love of country caused him to join the South Dakota Air National Guard in 1954 where he served honorably until 1962.
Gene began his law enforcement career with the Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Department in 1960. He started his employment as a county jailer and worked his way up to the rank of Chief Deputy Sheriff in 1963. Gene served as Chief Deputy until he ran for Sheriff of Minnehaha County in 1968. Gene would eventually lose to Barney Boos in the closest Sheriff’s election in the history of Minnehaha County.
In 1969, Gene temporarily stepped away from law enforcement and public service and accepted a position with SoDak Distributors in Sioux Falls. Over the course of the next decade, Gene would rise through the ranks at SoDak, eventually becoming the company’s top salesperson. This position required Gene to travel every corner of the state in order to call on accounts in cities large and small. It was during this time that Gene began to develop close friendships with countless South Dakotans scattered throughout the state. These connections and friendships would pay dividends for Gene’s charitable works in the years to come.<?xml:namespace prefix = o /><o:p></o:p>
In March of 1982, Gene gave up a very successful career in the private sector and returned to law enforcement when he accepted the appointment by President Ronald Reagan to serve as South Dakota’s 17th U.S. Marshal. He was reappointed by President Reagan in 1986 and appointed yet again by President George H.W. Bush in 1990. When Gene retired from the United States Marshal’s service in 1994, he was one of the longest serving federal marshals in our nation’s history.<o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>During his tenure as Marshal, Gene received numerous national awards, including the Meritorious Service Award (which is given to the top Marshals in the country) and the Distinguished District Award (which is given to one district in the United States every year). Gene’s tremendous influence with the United States Marshal’s Headquarters in Washington D.C. resulted in his fellow marshals giving him the nickname “M.O.U.” or “Marshal of the Universe”. <o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>In 1982, during his first year as U.S. Marshal, Gene made the landmark decision to utilize his statewide connections and organize an event where all levels of law enforcement from across the state could come together on an annual basis to share stories and foster friendships. This event, which had 53 attendees in the first year, has now grown to over 1,500 attendees annually. In fact, the South Dakota Law Enforcement Appreciation Dinner is now believed to be the largest gathering of its kind in the nation – attracting federal, state and local law enforcement from across the United States. <o:p></o:p>
As the law enforcement appreciation dinner grew in popularity, Gene decided to combine his dedication to law enforcement with his lifelong devotion to needy children. In doing so, Gene personally called upon countless businesses throughout the state to support the law enforcement event with donations to children’s charities. As a result of Gene’s innovation, tens of thousands of dollars are donated each year to local children’s charities in the name of law enforcement. Incredibly, through his law enforcement appreciation dinner, Gene has now raised millions of dollars for needy children throughout South Dakota. <o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>Also in the 1980’s, Gene helped found the well-known Christmas charity - “Sioux Falls Cares”. Through his efforts, tens of thousands of dollars in food, clothing and toys are distributed each year at Christmas time to needy families in the Sioux Falls area.<o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>After retiring from the United States Marshal’s Service, Gene was appointed in 1995 by Governor William Janklow to serve as the Superintendent of the South Dakota Highway Patrol. Gene served in this position from 1995-2000. As Superintendent, Gene was instrumental in providing the Highway Patrol with the most modern and sophisticated crime fighting equipment available today. Because of Gene’s foresight, the South Dakota Highway Patrol is now prepared to handle nearly any major law enforcement emergency or disaster. Under his remarkable leadership, drug dogs were enlisted for the first time on a statewide level to assist our educational professionals with protecting our children and our schools from dangerous narcotics. And, through his relentless lobbying efforts, Gene was able to dramatically increase the base pay of South Dakota’s troopers to a level that now allows our state to attract and retain some of best and brightest troopers in the United States today.<o:p></o:p>
Almost immediately upon his retirement from the South Dakota Highway Patrol in 2000, Gene was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives by the citizens of District 10 (which is comprised of southeastern Minnehaha County and northern Lincoln County). While serving in the House of Representatives, Gene was heralded for strengthening South Dakota’s D.U.I. laws and stiffening the penalties for chronic drunk drivers in just his first year in office. This amazing accomplishment earned Gene the immediate praise and admiration of not only his constituents, but also his colleagues in the legislature. <o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>In 2002, Gene was elected to the South Dakota Senate by the citizens of District 10. When he was re-elected in 2004, Gene received more votes than any other Senator or Representative in the entire State of South Dakota. While in the Senate, Gene’s colleagues appointed him Chairman of the influential Senate Judiciary Committee. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary, Gene continued his focus on public safety by requiring DNA testing for all convicted felons and cracking down on sexual predators. Gene’s DNA law would later result in the arrest and apprehension of a murderer in a previously unsolved homicide in the State of Minnesota. <o:p></o:p>
Gene was re-elected to the Senate again in 2006 and 2008. In both years, he once again received more votes than any other Senator or Representative in the entire state. Because of term limits, Gene left the Senate in 2010 and was again elected to the House of Representatives – where he once again received more votes than any other Representative in the state. <o:p></o:p>
<o:p> </o:p>While Gene’s contributions and awards are far too numerous to address in such a short biography, there is no question that he is one of the finest, most dedicated and caring public servants ever to serve our great state. Former Governor Bill Janklow perhaps summed it up best when he stated: “Someday, years from now, historians will rediscover Gene Abdallah in the files. From all the official documents, they will learn a lot about him and discover both what most people know about Gene and what most people never knew about him. These historians will come to know that behind the biggest badge in South Dakota was the biggest heart in South Dakota.” <o:p></o:p>
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