PIERRE, S.D. – On Thursday evening, Governor Kristi Noem and the South Dakota Department of Tourism presented awards to tourism industry members at the 2019 Governor’s Conference on Tourism in Pierre.

The 10th Annual Rooster Rush Cacklin’ Community Award went to the community of Aberdeen for its efforts to welcome pheasant hunters to the state. The Aberdeen Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) provided service and hospitality from the moment hunters stepped off the plane by serving pheasant sandwiches and providing gift bags. The hospitality continued at hotel check-in, and the CVB hosted unique events like the Pheasant Sandwich Shootout.

The George S. Mickelson Great Service Awards were given to Reptile Gardens in Rapid City and the Swiftel Center in Brookings. This award honors businesses, communities or organizations that have done an exemplary job of customer service and exceeding visitor expectations.

“The Swiftel Center is taking a unique look at motivating and educating their staff to provide high levels of customer service. Whether a full-time or part-time employee, they are demonstrating what people-first service looks like and are seeing the benefits of their excellence,” said Governor Noem. “After 80 years, Reptile Gardens is no stranger to customer service, and they continue to see strong reviews of their business while supporting their neighboring attractions as friends and partners.” 

The Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award is given to an industry partner for their innovative thinking in making their destination, business or attraction even more appealing to visitors. This year’s award was given to Wylie Park and Storybook Land in Aberdeen for their unique special promotions and overall elevation of the visitor experience.

“Wylie Park and Storybook Land has been wowing visitors for more than 40 years, becoming one of the top ten municipal parks in the entire nation,” said Noem. “It was an exciting year for them to welcome their one millionth passenger on their world-famous train, and I look forward to hearing what the next million have to say about this iconic South Dakota attraction.”

In its second year, the Ruth Ziolkowski* Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award was given to four industry members from across the state. This award honors tourism industry professionals who display outstanding and genuine hospitality to visitors. The awards were given to Amanda Allcock from Crazy Horse Memorial, Inez Muilenburg* from the Super 8 Hotel in Huron, Nova Steinhauser* from the Platte Creek Lodge, and Jaqueline Wentworth from the Sioux Falls CVB. 

“Each of these winners exemplifies what it means to deliver remarkable service to visitors. Their work demonstrates an outstanding spirit of hospitality, warmth, and genuine kindness,” said Noem. “A little bit of kindness goes a long way today, and the efforts these four are making do not go unnoticed.”

The A. H. Pankow Award recognizes a representative of the media for showing superior interest in and coverage of the South Dakota tourism industry. Mike Tanner from KWAT Radio in Watertown was awarded for his continued efforts to spread the word on the importance of tourism in South Dakota. 

“Mike Tanner is known across the region as a world-class emcee and radio host,” said Noem. “His unbiased coverage of South Dakota makes him a go-to resource for the latest headlines, including tourism news and live broadcasts from this tourism conference. I’m grateful for his service as one of my hometown newscasters.”

Finally, the Ben Black Elk Award honors an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the state’s visitor industry. The winners of this outstanding award were Dennis and Sherry Povondra* for their dedicated efforts to the community of Tabor and its legendary Czech Days event.

“Dennis and Sherry wear many hats in Tabor, and they do it to bolster a legacy for generations to come,” said Noem. “They have been involved with Czech Days quite literally their entire lives. Their role with Czech Days and all aspects of their community are valued and appreciated by many.”

The South Dakota Department of Tourism is comprised of Tourism and the South Dakota Arts Council. The Department is led by Secretary James D. Hagen.


Media Notes:

*Ziolkowski (jewl-KUF-skee)
*Inez (EYE-nehz)
*Muilenburg (MY-len-burg
*Nova (noh-VAH)
*Steinhauser (STINE-how-zher)
*Povondra (poh-VAHN-drah)

For high resolution, downloadable images of the award winners, please use this Dropbox link:

Inez Muilenburg was not able to be present to accept the award. The Huron CVB accepted on her behalf.

Governor Kristi Noem and Secretary James Hagen are pictured with all award winners. Pictured with the Ruth Ziolkowski Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award winners is the Ziokowski family.


Katlyn Richter, Global Media & Public Relations Director
South Dakota Department of Tourism
Phone: 605-773-3301
Email: [email protected]