PIERRE, S.D. – On Thursday, January 20, the Department of Tourism honored tourism professionals and businesses from across South Dakota for their loyalty, commitment, and passion for the state’s tourism industry.

The coveted Rooster Rush Cacklin’ Community Award was presented to Aberdeen for their marketing tactics, community involvement and hospitality focused on boosting the pheasant hunting experience in South Dakota.

“Aberdeen welcomed hunters with an inaugural Pheasant Phestival Pup Crawl, even raising money for their area humane society. They greeted visitors at the airport with blaze orange goodie bags and iconic pheasant sandwiches,” said Jim Hagen, Secretary of the Department of Tourism.

The Governor’s Tourism Rising Star Award – an award new to the conference – was presented to Sarah Kills In Water of Mission. This award recognizes an individual who has worked in the tourism industry for 2-4 years and is excelling in their career, showing a bright future in the tourism industry.

“Sarah has been vital in bringing tourism and economic development to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe through grant writing, networking and collaborative thinking,” said Hagen. “She is working hard to establish tourism in Rosebud, and everybody who works with her loves her positivity and can-do attitude.”

The Ruth Ziolkowski* Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award is given annually to four industry members, each representing a tourism region of South Dakota. This award recognizes tourism industry professionals who provide remarkable service to visitors and whose work demonstrates an outstanding spirit of hospitality. These awards were given to Jeff Oldham* from Reptile Gardens of Rapid City, Prudy Calvin from the Mellette House in Watertown, Wanda Bunker from the Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center of Chamberlain, and Bruce Cull from the National Field Archery Association in Yankton.

“Across every region of South Dakota, it’s folks like these that are the rock of the tourism industry,” said Hagen. “Every day they show up. They pour their hearts into their careers, and they embody the hospitality that South Dakota is known for.”

The George S. Mickelson Award went to AmericInn by Wyndham Belle Fourche. This award honors businesses, communities or organizations that have done an exemplary job of customer service and exceeding visitor expectations.

Rushmore Tramway Adventures, Keystone, was awarded the Peter Norbeck Excellence in Tourism Innovation Award, an award given to an industry partner for their innovative thinking in making their destination, business or attraction even more appealing to visitors.

The A. H. Pankow Award recognizes a representative of the media for showing superior interest in and coverage of South Dakota’s tourism industry. This year’s award went to NewsCenter1, located in Rapid City, for their continued coverage of the tourism industry, especially in the Black Hills, and their attention to the economic impact that tourism has on South Dakota.

The Ben Black Elk Award is a prestigious honor recognizing an individual who makes outstanding contributions to the state’s visitor industry. This year’s award was given to both Jan Grunewaldt* of Regency Hotel Management in Sioux Falls and Karen Kern formerly with South Dakota Missouri River Tourism Association in Pierre.

“Jan has done anything and everything to make visitors’ experiences the best they can be. Her above-and-beyond mentality makes a difference with everyone she encounters,” said Hagen. “Karen has been an instrumental contributor to the success story of tourism in South Dakota, especially along the Missouri River and for tribal tourism. She has been a true champion of the South Dakota tourism industry for 36 years.”

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


Media Notes:

  • For high resolution, downloadable images of the award winners, please use this Dropbox link.
  • Photo notes:
    • Prudy Calvin and Jeff Oldham were unable to attend the Awards Night Gala.
    • Johnny Brockelsby*, pictured, accepted the award on behalf of Jeff Oldham.
    • Pictured with the Ruth Ziolkowski Outstanding Hospitality & Customer Service Award winners is Monique Ziolkowski.
    • NewsCenter1 accepted their award earlier in the day.

*Ziolkowski (JOOL’-kuff-ski)
*Grunewaldt (gr-OON’-walt)
*Prudy (PROO’-dee)
*Oldham (OLD’-uhm)
*Brockelsby (BRAHK’-uhlz-bee)


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