“Mr. Historical Marker”
Bruce Blake was born in Superior, WI, in March 1, 1931, to parents Arthur and Hazel (Gillespie) Blake. As a youth, he lived with his parents and two older brothers in Mankato, MN. His father was transferred to Sioux Falls and the family moved late in 1945 after World War II ended. Bruce entered the original Washington High School as a freshman. After graduating in 1949, he enrolled at the University of South Dakota.
In 1953 he earned a B.Sci. Degree from the USD Business School and also was commissioned as an ROTC Second Lieutenant, Infantry. While attending the University, he was the sport's editor of the Volante student newspaper, sports director of the USD Public Relations Office, president of the Alpha Tau Omega social fraternity, chair of the Miss University contest, and a member of the Dakotans and the Interfraternity Council. He completed his freshman year of Law School in 1954 before being called up for active duty near the end of the Korean War. He served most of his tour of duty at Fort Dix, NJ, as an infantry platoon leader. The remainder of his military commitment was served in the South Dakota National Guard and the US Army Reserves. Bruce then returned to USD to complete Law School in 1958 where he served as business manager and a member of the board of the South Dakota Law Review. His first employment as a lawyer was as house counsel for United States Steel Corporation in Detroit, MI. Only three months after successfully passing the South Dakota Bar Exam, Bruce was directed to research the liability of United States Steel Corporation under Admiralty Law to the families of 33 crew members who perished when the Carl D. Bradley, a USSC limestone carrier, broke in half and quickly sank while crossing Lake Michigan during an early winter storm.
Bruce returned to South Dakota in 1959 to enter private practice. After three years working in an established law office, he began a thirty-four year solo law practice (1962-1996). He spent his last twenty years as a practicing lawyer reorganizing insolvent businesses, farms, and ranches under Chapters 11 and 12 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code. Bruce received national recognition before retirement for his work in this limited field of law. Early in his law practice in Sioux Falls, he served some six years as Civil Deputy States Attorney for Minnehaha County. For several years, he also was a lobbyist for the SDEA before the South Dakota legislature. During his 50-year membership in the South Dakota Bar Association, he belonged to the American Bar Association and the American Bankruptcy Institute. He was admitted to practice before the South Dakota Federal District Court, the Eighth Judicial Court of Appeals, and the Supreme Court of the United States.
While raising a family, two sons and two daughters, Bruce served for four years (1968-1972) as Scoutmaster of Troop 207 at Asbury Methodist Church. He also was co-chair of the well-known YMCA Tri-State Basketball Tournament in Sioux Falls in 1968 [one of the first, largest and longest standing similar youth events in the country, and still going strong in 2009]. While in his early 70s, Bruce was a Cub Scout Den Leader for four years with his adopted grandson, Josh, including overnight camping at Lake Shetek, MN, Lewis & Clark Lake on the Missouri River, and other camp sites. He and his Danish-born wife Rita, an R.N., are active members of Grace Lutheran Church (ELCA Synod]. Rita is the church Parish Nurse and initiated the program at Grace Lutheran six years ago; Josh is a senior at Lincoln High School and plans to pursue a computer science degree. Bruce's two adult sons practice law in Sioux Falls. Rita and Bruce are grandparents to seventeen grandchildren.
A member of the Minnehaha County Historical Society since 1962, Bruce served four terms as a director, two terms as first vice president and program chair, and two terms as president. He created the Society's historical marker program in 1988. He also began a Registered Historian program to encourage visitors and local residents to learn more about local history. To date more than 500 Cub, Girl, and Boy Scouts, students, seniors, visitors and residents have visited 25 or more historical marker sites and earned a Registered Historian Certificate, a commemorative patch, and a complimentary membership to the Minnehaha County Historical Society. Bruce is frequently invited to speak about the history of Sioux Falls before church groups, the DAR, retired union employees, women's PEO chapters, service clubs, and other organizations.
Bruce has had a life long interest in the history of Sioux Falls, his adopted hometown. He is in the third decade of his avocation as a volunteer historian and creator of the MCHS historical marker program. His service has assured this mild mannered lawyer a deserved place in county history. These untiring efforts have earned him a singular title, “The Spirit of Minnehaha County,” by this biographer. His awards have many origins: Two enrobing ceremonies and twice presented with Star Quilts by the Flandreau Santee Dakota Tribe, Governor’s Individual Award for History from the South Dakota State Historical Society, Honorary Minnehaha County Historian Award from the Minnehaha County Commission, Nancy Plato Award from the All City Elementary School PTA Board, History Achievement Award from the South Dakota Archeological Society, History Preservation Award from the Mary Chilton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution [DAR], Achievement Award for Education from Preserve South Dakota, Distinguished Contribution Award from the Dakota Conference, Center for Western Studies, Augustana College, Volunteer Award for Outstanding Achievement and Dedication from the Siouxland Heritage Museums, Mayoral Award for Historical Preservation from Sioux Falls Mayor David Munson and the Sioux Falls Board of Historical Preservation, and a Historic Preservation Award from the Minnehaha Century Fund in recognition for his 22 years as director of the Minnehaha County Historical Society marker program. In 2008 Bruce received the coveted AASLH Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History of Nashville, TN, a national award in its 63rd year as the most prestigious recognition for achievement in the preservation and interpretation of state and local history. Also in 2008, Bruce was appointed to the board of directors of the Center for Western Studies at Augustana College.
What does it take to be recognized for awards such as these above' Consider a few of Bruce's personal efforts: *Author or editor of more than 185 new historical marker texts. *Fund raising through grants and solicitations totaling nearly $350,000 for the foundry casting of markers and dedication expenses. *Working with an archeologist to identify Indian burial mounds and rebuild another, determined the location of a platform upon which scaffold burials were placed, determined the site of a prehistoric Omaha Indian Ceremonial Dance Circle, and located a very early metal artifact, a 500 A.D. copper “woman's knife" made by a prehistoric craftsman. *Working with a geologist to place eight new historical markers about the geology of Minnehaha County including markers about a vein of ashfall from a gigantic volcanic eruption about 600,000 years ago which blanketed Minnehaha County to a depth of three feet, about a very unique landform, crevasse fill, left by the last glacier in Minnehaha County, about a 1938 earthquake with its epicenter between Renner and Sioux Falls, and about rediscovering twin glacial mounds which provided a landmark for wagon masters of incoming covered wagon trains during the Dakota Boom (1878-1887). *Locating three photos of and the only known eyewitness written account of a Ku Klux Klan ritualistic graveside service at the burial of a Klan member in a Sioux Falls cemetery. *These are but a few of several dozen examples of Bruce's historical accomplishments in Minnehaha County.
Working on behalf of the Minnehaha County Historical Society, Bruce has been compiling a 500-page book titled, “Twelve Thousand Years of Human History” (as recorded on 235 HistoricalMarkers) during the last five years. Archeologists believe that the first humans to enter Minnehaha County did so about twelve thousand years ago. The book will contain the text for the more than 235 historical markers that Bruce has either dedicated or identified. More than 600 photos, maps, and drawings will complement the historical marker texts. The markers are organized chronologically and then divided into five timeline subdivisions: Geologic, Prehistoric, Historic, Dakota Territory and South Dakota. Publication of Twelve Thousand Years of Human History will mark the culmination of Bruce's historical marker mission.
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