Last week I received the most thoughtful message from a friend. I didn’t know I needed to read it, but he did. We’ve been friends since I turned around in Mr. Hieb’s sixth-grade Social Studies class to borrow something from someone I didn’t know all that well. I think I had a pen but needed a pencil. Or, maybe it was that I had a pencil yet needed an eraser. All I remember is that he gave me what I needed and said something very snarky and deeply funny before an incredible grin overtook his face. We’ve been friends since that moment, and his recent message reminded me that lasting friendships can grow out of the most routine encounters.
Hours before receiving my friend’s note, I dressed up in semi-formal wear (which now includes a face mask) and entered into the socially distant presence of a large group to celebrate the graduates of the Evan C. Nolte Leadership Sioux Falls program.
Since 2017 I’ve had the honor of facilitating the program, which is sponsored by the Greater Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce. On Thursday evening, we celebrated the thoughtful and talented graduates of Class 34 and noted that the program this year reached the important milestone of its 1,000th graduate.
Former South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard, a Leadership Sioux Falls Class 4 graduate, delivered a powerful keynote to Class 34’s graduates, offering meaningful advice on leadership and expressing an incredible call to action. His message was so right for this moment, and it was a powerful testimony to the importance of programs like this one.
I’m thankful to also be both a contract facilitator and a graduate (Class 30) of this exceptional and well-respected community leadership program. I graduated the year the chamber renamed the program to honor the unparalleled legacy of Evan C. Nolte, who led the organization for decades. I was relatively new in town, and I admired Evan for his reputation as well as his warmth, graciousness, leadership and deep humility.
I vividly remember my experience as a participant in the program listening to Evan alongside community leaders Gene McGowan, Mary Medema, Candy Hanson and Mike Crane giving an incredible eye-opening presentation on the history of Sioux Falls. I felt like I was sharing a personal conversation with the five of them. These individuals at that moment served as mentors not just for me but for everyone else in the room. Countless quality presentations throughout the eight-month journey afforded us the opportunity to ask important questions of leaders in business, government, education and the non-profit space.
I’m thankful to the large number of community leaders who give their time to the program. One year, Kayla Huizing, the Chamber’s YPN manager, and I tracked the number — one hundred people generously shared their insight and wisdom.
How incredible that more than 34 years ago, Jerry Simmons, Bill Barlow, Jan Nicolay and others had the wisdom to establish this program. These community leaders knew we would need each other for this journey.
This has been a deep honor and a professional experience of a lifetime, and I’m thankful that in some small way I’m part of the program’s legacy. Jerry Simmons was a founder and the first facilitator. The remarkable Kate Foley holds the record for longevity and I’m thankful for her model. I learned so much from her. Lauren (Fosheim) Gilbertson was the incredible facilitator and leader who envisioned many strong themes for the program’s structure that continue today. I am in very fine company, and I thank former Sioux Falls Chamber President and CEO Jason Ball and others who gave me this incredible opportunity. I was honored to work to further strengthen the program and to link incredible leaders to new and emerging ones.
Lifelong connections can spark so beautifully, and I formed some of my strongest friendships through the Evan C. Nolte Leadership Sioux Falls program. I find that, time and again, I’ve turned to these mentors and friends, and it’s deeply humbling now to also be that mentor and friend for others.
We all have tools in the form of resources, information, perspectives, insights and introductions. It’s a gift for everyone when we learn to share these freely for the betterment of our community. It is much like turning to someone and saying, “I have a pencil; may I borrow an eraser?” and being willing to graciously reciprocate when others reach out to you.
My friend and I were in proximity as schoolmates because my last name began Ha- and his began Hi-; now he lives far away in California. Just as he’s traveled in all aspects of his life, each member of this year’s Evan C. Nolte Leadership Sioux Falls class will grow in their careers, interests, community service and more. I am confident they will see the value in staying connected, remaining rooted in our shared community history and committing to engage in deep and important work about how we might best change for the future.
I offer my deepest congratulations to every graduate and every future graduate. Sioux Falls is richer because you are here.